Ellsworth Kelly

Ellsworth Kelly’s inspirations in the late 1940s and early 1950s and the breakthrough of his unique abstract imagery in Paris had a major influence on colour painting during the post-war period. His “artistic position strives to address not only the formal problem of painting but also its self-conception as a medium of representation and a bearer of aesthetic meaning. The turn away from the traditional mode of panel painting is based on a reduction of pictorial means to the essential characteristics of structure and appearance: form and colour.”1 Monochrome painting and multi-panel painting, a new relationship between colour, form and space, a focus on integral forms and the treatment of chance and seriality were to lay the ground for abstract painting’s abandonment of expressionism during the 1960s. Two Whites (1959) is clearly evocative of Kazimir Malevich’s Suprematist Composition: White on White (1918), created as a continuation of the Black Square and a guarantor of absolute objectlessness.

The use of observations and found compositions – the fold of a cigarette pack or the outline of a vine leaf as well as geometric shapes – opened up a new realm of possibilities that was invariably secondary to the artist’s minimalist convictions. Kelly translated his found compositions into paintings, sculptures, drawings, prints and photographs whose visual power triggered artistic movements. With the same rigour he demonstrated in translating new observations of his environment as well as fragments of visual experience into his works, Kelly often revisited his earlier works and sketches. The directness of his sensory intuition, combined with his meticulous translation, allowed him to continue producing innovative works throughout his long career.

Anke Hervol


1 Ulrich Wilmes, Schwarz und Weiss, in id. (ed.), Ellsworth Kelly: Schwarz & Weiß, exh. cat. Haus der Kunst, Munich, Museum Wiesbaden, Wiesbaden, Ostfildern, 2011, p. 6.


In the exhibition:

Ellsworth Kelly
Two Whites, 1959
Oil on canvas
68,6 × 61 cm
Ellsworth Kelly Foundation


Additional information about the artist