The talented, prolific, and eminently influential artist Ellsworth Kelly died peacefully at home in New York on Sunday. He was 92.
Ellsworth Kelly was among the pioneers of the mid-century Abstract Expressionist movement in both Paris and on the U.S. east coast. In his paintings and sculpture he favored bold colors and geometric designs, often focusing on repetition of shapes, recalling some natural or man-made element he’d noticed and latched onto. His powers of observation and interpretation were legendary.
He worked in isolation, so although his style echoes an amalgam of Picasso, Pollock, and Matisse, it can’t be chalked up simply to influence—it was more complicated than that. Perhaps confluence is more accurate: Kelly and other abstract artists of his era were unconscious channelers of a schizophrenic twentieth-century zeitgeist.
That said, one of his undoubted influences was both prosaic and profound: he was a camouflage artist for the U.S. Army during World War II. It’s clear this translated into both his embrace of geometry, and in his understanding of the interaction between observer and observed.
In the years following the war, and especially in the latter years of the century, Kelly slipped seamlessly into the roll of standard-bearer of contemporary expressionism, without necessarily seeking the limelight for himself. He curated limited exhibitions of Monet and Matisse work in 2014 and 2015, while his own art continued to be central to modern-art collections, public and private, around the world.
Ellsworth Kelly lived a long and productive life, and gifted the art world with his unique perspective and his inimitable style. He will be long missed, and never forgotten.