Ellsworth Kelly

Artist Ellsworth Kelly (1923-2015) is recognized for his minimalist compositions. His oeuvre of hard-edged paintings is simultaneously flat yet express rich depth through the use of the abstracted field of colors, forms, and lines.

Kelly attributed his abstract compositions to the camouflages he developed while serving in the military during World War II. Just as military camouflages contains random appearing arrangements that are composed through well-thought-out intentions, Kelly arranged colors in his paintings with effortless appearing adjacencies that seem to be juxtaposed by happenstance.

The artist produced a serial of “Spectrum” paintings expressing colors arrayed in geometrically precise yet playfully arranged orders. His project Spectrum IV, painted in 1967, is a masterful example of boldness expressed through exact and subtle manipulations. All the colors present in this painting vary from the seven colors of the rainbow; each color shown in this painting are the gradients in between the bold colors of the rainbow spectrum: as the reds contain hues of adjacent yellow and the blue contain hues of green. In addition to the colors of Spectrum IV varying from the bold pronounced colors of the rainbow, the arrangement of the colors does not follow the natural wavelength of color distribution. Kelly arranged the color strips to create a loose bilateral symmetry that radiates outward rather than march from left to right. The painting is flanked by yellow stripes that are different in their hue and saturation.

Spectrum IV’s non-figurative deployment of adjusted colors and purposefully rearranged spectrum order, in precise linear strips, elicit beauty in the response of the viewers without evoking perfection. Working within the confines of a square canvas with precise geometric arrangement, Kelly is able to tease out vibrancy with a sense of freedom. Such an effect is tempered with a sense of order that contains the overall emotional impact by containing the vibrancy through precise composition.