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Lifting Off


Lifting Off

In the late 1950s, public and

institutional recognition of

Ellsworth Kelly’s innovative

approach to making abstract

art began to soar.

By 2000, his many major

exhibitions, wide critical praise,

impressive commissions and

achievements would establish

Kelly as an icon of American art.

First solo show at Galerie Maeght in Paris opens.
Kelly continues to exhibit with Galerie Maeght throughout his career.
Completes a commissioned public artwork,
titled Sculpture for a Large Wall, for the new Transportation Building in Philadelphia.  In place until 1998, the sculpture is now on view in MoMA’s collection.
Creates his first freestanding sculpture: Gate & Pony.
Begins printing a series of 55 color and plant lithographs
published by Maeght Éditeur in Paris.
Begins making uniquely joined-panel paintings in various shapes.
Kelly’s portrait appears on the October 12 cover of the New York Times Magazine
alongside Andy Warhol, Robert Motherwell, and Willem de Kooning — the “Four Leading Artists of the New York School.”
Moves from NYC to
Spencertown, New York
where he renovates an old farmhouse. In the nearby village of Chatham, he rents a defunct theater, Cady’s Hall, and transforms it into a studio.

Kelly traded the busy, confining streets of New York City for the broad, bucolic hills of Columbia County in upstate New York

In the small town of Chatham, he found a new studio space in Cady’s Hall.
My New Studio, 1970
Built in 1871, Cady’s Hall once hosted community events ranging from church services and military drills to roller skating and live performances — Houdini and The Three Stooges appeared there.
But when Kelly discovered the space in 1970, it held nothing more than the town’s stored Christmas lights.
Kelly was drawn to Cady’s Hall by its four windows. Nearly 12-foot-tall, they line the east wall of the space.
The studio was much larger than any he’d had in the city,  making it possible  to create on a more grand scale.
He could hang his finished work between the windows and use the north wall to paint.
Working in this space, Kelly completed 19 two-panel paintings of various shapes, sizes, and colors within his first year there.
He followed this with his signature Chatham Series:
14 two-panel paintings of joined monochromes inspired by the intersection of the tall windows and the ceiling beams. The pieces range in height from 7 to 9 ½  feet.
14 two-panel paintings of joined monochromes inspired by the intersection of the tall windows and the ceiling beams. The pieces range in height from 7 to 9 ½  feet.
With their contrasting hues and L forms, the pieces create wholeness out of instability.
“One color cannot dominate the other; instead the two must exist in stable equilibrium.”
- Ann Temkin, “The Chatham Series” in Chatham Series (2013)

Begins printing lithographs with Sidney Felsen, Stanley Grinstein, and Kenneth Tyler of Gemini G.E.L. in Los Angeles.

Kelly continues to publish and exhibit with Gemini throughout his career.

Ellsworth Kelly created about 350 prints during his lifetime, beginning with a small series of lithographs he made with the Parisian publishing house Maeght Editeur in 1964.

But his most significant printmaking collaboration began in 1970, with Los Angeles-based Gemini G.E.L. (Graphic Editions Limited) and continued for 44 years. 

Now legendary, Gemini was an innovative and skillful workshop from the moment it opened in 1966. By the 70’s, many celebrated artists, including Jasper Johns, Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Rauschenberg, and others accepted the coveted invitation to print there.

Gemini became a hotbed of ground-breaking creativity.

Kelly loved the process of working jointly with Gemini’s fastidious master printers, who helped him achieve both technical and artistic milestones.

Through constant involvement, beginning with the very first proof to the last, Kelly worked alongside the printers to direct the results.

Between 1970 and 2014, he produced 250 print and sculpture editions, each one strictly limited and authenticated by the Gemini chop (seal).

Yellow Black, 1970
Blue Red-Orange, 1970-72
Blue Red-Orange Green, 1970-71
Green Curve, 1970-71
Red Curves, 2012

One of the staff at Gemini recalled how challenging it was to make Kelly’s immaculate print YELLOW:

“There’s not one tiny bit of doubt about the way a print is supposed to be. The color is supposed to be phenomenally uniform and flat and smooth, with no irregularities, no particles of dust, no rough edges, no nothing.”

In the mid-70s, when Kenneth Tyler left Gemini to set up a more experimental printing workshop in New York, he persuaded Kelly to try a new, more unpredictable medium: dyed paper pulp.

In the mid-70s, when Kenneth Tyler left Gemini to set up a more experimental printing workshop in New York, he persuaded Kelly to try a new, more unpredictable medium: dyed paper pulp.

Tyler developed swatches of dyed paper pulps from which Kelly selected a color. Each print would start with a ‘carrier’ sheet of unpigmented, damp paper on which Kelly would define a shape with a custom stencil.

The dyed pulp was then spooned thickly into the stencil from household jars or mugs. The stencils were removed and finally the print was pressed, flattening the colored pulp and fusing it with the paper.

After eight months of collaborating, the result was Kelly’s Colored Paper Images: a series of twenty-three prints with variations in how the dyes would bleed across the paper.

Colored Paper Image V, 1976

Colored Paper Image V, 1976

Colored Paper Image XI, 1976

Colored Paper Image XV, 1976

Colored Paper Image XVI, 1976

Kelly soon returned to the cleaner look of lithographic printing at Gemini, but said of the pulp project:

“I was intrigued with the idea of another way of putting color to paper and I think of the Colored Paper Images series as wet collages which are a cross between painting and collage.”

Kelly visits Saint Martin in the Caribbean for the first time.
Inspired by the landscape, he returns regularly.

Ellsworth Kelly first traveled to St. Martin in 1970 to visit Betty Parsons, his friend and former art dealer.

Notable artists, museum directors, gallery owners, and collectors often vacationed on the island, among them Douglas Cramer, Leo Castelli, and Jaspers Johns.

Though Kelly was never one to vacation from his artmaking, he found the island’s semi-tropical light and its hard-edged shadows captivating.
He was equally inspired by the native flora and added drawings of tropical plants to his repertoire of nature sketches. Kelly's plant drawings were precise and linear.
“They are exact observations of the form of the leaf or flower or fruit seen,” he remarked. “They are an impersonal observation of the form.”
During his time on the island Kelly would also construct postcard collages, a playful hallmark of his art since the 1950s.
He used them to correspond with lovers and friends whether he was home or abroad. But postcards were also an easy medium for creativity, with a ready-made image he could alter using found materials or cut-outs.
Kelly’s one-of-a-kind postcards ranged from humorous vignette
and studies of form
to tributes to his favorite celebrity, Harrison Ford.
More than 400 postcards, created over the course of a half-century, remain in the Ellsworth Kelly postcard collection. 
The first biographical monographs are published.
Ellsworth Kelly: Drawings,
Collages, Prints by Diane
Ellsworth Kelly
by John Coplans
Fabricates first large outdoor sculptures using weathering steel.
Curve I, installed flush on the ground, is the first, followed by the free-standing Stele I.
First solo show at Leo Castelli Gallery, New York, opens:
“Ellsworth Kelly: Curved Series.” Kelly continues to exhibit with Castelli until 1992.
MoMA presents a mid-career retrospective of Kelly’s work,
which travels to the Norton Simon Museum, the Walker Art Center, and the Detroit Institute of Arts.
First solo show at Blum Helman Gallery, New York, opens.
Kelly continues to exhibit with Blum Helman until 1993.
Peter Carlson Enterprises begins to fabricate Kelly’s sculptures.
Begins construction on his new studio adjacent to his Spencertown home,
replicating his Chatham studio proportions at Cady’s Hall.
Meets photographer Jack Shear in Los Angeles.
Jack would become Ellsworth’s life partner and husband.
Produces his tallest sculpture, a 49-foot high totem known as Creueta del Coll,
commissioned by and sited in the city of Barcelona.
Meets prints scholar
Richard H. Axsom,
who will compile a two-volume catalogue raisonné of Kelly’s prints, covering the years 1945–2008.
Creates his first floor painting, Yellow Curve
measuring 25½ feet at its widest, for a solo exhibition at Portikus, Frankfurt.
Meets art historian Yve-Alain Bois, who will author the multi-volume catalogue raisonné of Kelly’s paintings, sculptures, and reliefs
(Vol I, 1940–1953, published 2015; Vol II, 1954–1958, published 2021; Vol III, 1959–1965 in progress).
First solo exhibition of prints at Susan Sheehan Gallery, New York,
which continues to show his prints to date.
First solo exhibition at Matthew Marks Gallery, New York.
The gallery remains the artist’s primary dealer and continues to exhibit Kelly’s artwork to date.
“Ellsworth Kelly: A Retrospective”
curated by Diane Waldman, opens at the Guggenheim Museum, New York and travels to MOCA, Los Angeles; Tate Gallery, London; and Haus der Kunst, Munich.
Meets art historian Tricia Y. Paik,
who would write a comprehensive monograph on Kelly’s work, published just before his passing in 2015.
Line Form Color,
the book project Kelly conceptualized in 1951 while in Paris, is finally published.
The Menil Collection, Houston, acquires and exhibits over 200 works on paper
drawn from Kelly’s important set of Tablet sheets.

Representing 25 years of exploratory work, the pieces in Kelly’s Tablet series originated from foraged bits and pieces of drawing material that were at hand when he ‘found’ inspiration.

Menus, napkins, calendars, old mail, invitations, napkins, even a church manual — all became surfaces for his sketching.

Collages were constructed from magazine photos, paper scraps, and other scavenged elements.

Kelly assembled each tablet thematically, not chronologically, often combining elements that represented a wide span of years in his career.

Through this fragmented process, Kelly unearthed natural compositions from everyday scenes.  In Tablet #54, he highlighted the long, rectangular forms created by the clothing of two figures as they passed on the street.

The tilted form of one figure and the high contrast color blocks of the other merge in Kelly’s 1968 paintings;

Red Blue; Green Black; Black White

But unlike the small sketch that inspired the paintings, these three works are approximately eight feet tall. By pushing the scale of the composition, the form becomes its own entity.   


“. . . there is a measure that I find most engaging. I am always attached to shape.”

Portrait of a Man, 1650-1653

We see his attachment to shape playing out in another work’s origin story:  The curved, rhombus-like form of the man’s collar in Kelly’s early sketch of Frans Hals’s Portrait of a Man directly inspired subsequent panel paintings.

From Franz Hals’ “Portrait of a Man”, 1974
From Franz Hals’ “Portrait of a Man”, 1974
Black Panel II, 1985
White Panel II, 1985

“My first lesson was to see objectively, to erase all 'meaning' of the thing seen.”

Ellsworth Kelly: Fragments,
a documentary produced by Checkerboard Film Foundation premieres at Florence Gould Hall, New York.
Kelly receives the 2012 National Medal of Arts
presented by President Barack Obama at a White House ceremony.
Commissioned by the Blanton Museum of Art, University of Texas at Austin, Kelly envisions his final and most monumental work:
a 2,715-square-foot gray limestone building featuring multi-colored stained-glass windows, redwood totem, and black-and-white marble panels, titled Austin. Construction is completed in 2018.
December 27, 2015
Ellsworth Kelly dies at age 92
in his Spencertown home.
His memorial service is held at MoMA.
In 2023, the art world marked the centennial birthday of Ellsworth Kelly with a year-long celebration throughout the US and Europe.
Kelly’s work was honored at numerous museum and gallery exhibits; in new publications; at an academic symposium; at gala events; and with special dedications and festivities in Columbia County where he lived and worked for over 50 years.
And in a lasting centennial tribute, this interactive digital biography was created to make the story of Ellsworth Kelly visible to all, for generations to come.
Total Exhibitions: 37
Total Exhibitions: 37
Total Exhibitions: 37
Total Exhibitions: 139
Total Exhibitions: 47
Total Exhibitions: 37
Total Exhibitions: 20
Total Exhibitions: 20
Total Exhibitions: 37
Total Exhibitions: 47
Total Exhibitions: 139
Total Exhibitions: 247
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Total Exhibitions: 311
Total Exhibitions: 338
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Total Exhibitions: 459
Total Exhibitions: 561
Total Exhibitions: 718
Total Exhibitions: 779
Total Exhibitions: 914
Total Exhibitions: 1,077
Total Exhibitions: 1,172
Total Exhibitions: 1,373
Total Exhibitions: 1,454
Total Exhibitions: 1,509
Total Exhibitions: 1,832
Total Exhibitions: 1,966
Total Exhibitions: 2,276
Total Exhibitions: 2,383