Lilt, Joy and Clarity: The Prints of Ellsworth Kelly

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Lilt, Joy and Clarity: The Prints of Ellsworth Kelly
Online Viewing Room, October 14th, 2021 – January 16th, 2022 New York

New York, NY. October 14, 2021. Zeit Contemporary Art is pleased to present Lilt, Joy and Clarity: The Prints of Ellsworth Kelly, an online viewing room organized in close collaboration with Gemini G.E.L., on view through January 16th, 2022.

Ellsworth Kelly (1923 — 2015) is arguably unmatched in his spare yet vibrant language, instantly recognizable in any medium. This viewing room focuses on his prints which, as Richard H. Axsom argues in the catalogue raisonné, perhaps encapsulate Kelly’s goals and aesthetic even more so than his paintings and sculptures: the prints, with no distraction in the guise of a backing or three-dimensionality, epitomize Kelly’s trademark simplified emphasis on shape, color, surface, and ground as well as his interest in pristine surfaces and the importance of negative space.


Ellsworth Kelly. River II, 2005. Wall relief comprised of two 4-color lithographs, clear coated and mounted onto two conjoined aluminum panels. Each panel 40 x 109 in. (101.6 x 267.9 cm). Image courtesy of Gemini G.E.L., Los Angeles and Zeit Contemporary Art, New York

After serving in WWII in the camouflage unit, an experience which undoubtedly inflected him artistically, Kelly honed his abstract formalist aesthetic in Paris from 1948-1954, abandoning his earlier forays into figuration. While he sporadically attended classes at the École des Beaux Arts, his real artistic education was constituted through firsthand exposure to the art of Henri Matisse, Jean Arp, Alexander Calder, Joan Miró, and Constantin Brancusi. Matisse’s use of color and Brancusi’s use of form in particular had a great impact on the artist. While Kelly’s formalist works are often compared to minimalism and hard-edged geometric abstraction, his artistic project occupies a unique place in relation to these movements both because it came before them and because his inspiration always began from forms found in nature.


Ellsworth Kelly. Yellow Red-Orange, 1970. Lithograph on special Arjomari paper. 35 1/4 x 36 1/4 in. (89.5 x 92.1 cm). Image courtesy of Zeit Contemporary Art, New York

Alongside many of his contemporaries, Kelly began to explore printmaking during the mid-60s. Any discussion of his prints is remiss without mentioning the importance of his collaboration with Gemini G.E.L. Gemini was Kelly’s workshop of choice as a result of their adventurous yet determined ethos, resulting in many technological innovations in order to create prints suited to Kelly’s unique specifications.

As is evident in the works included in this viewing room, Kelly was very exacting and particular when it came to choosing and mixing color. When proofing one print entitled Black Brown, it ultimately took three printers five days and multiple gallons of ink to create the perfect shade of brown for the artist. Kelly also went above and beyond when it came to printing more monumentally sized works.


Ellsworth Kelly. Dartmouth, 2011. 5-color lithograph. 14 x 28 1/2 in. (35.6 x 72.4 cm). Image courtesy of Gemini G.E.L., Los Angeles and Zeit Contemporary Art, New York

In the late 1980s, while working on the extended Purple Red Gray Orange lithographic series, Kelly decided he wanted to create a print that was 225 inches long. As the press bed was a comparatively mere 102 inches, Kelly and the printers came up with the solution to create 4 separate prints of each of the shapes and subsequently combine them; this print was one of the largest fine art lithographs ever made. This lithograph has no counterpart in paintings, revelatory of Kelly’s delight in the medium in and of itself.

This viewing room in particular is largely concerned with Kelly’s later prints while simultaneously providing a cohesive perspective into the key aspects of his practice. While Color Panels, Color Square I, and Dartmouth reveal Kelly’s delight in chance through the playful arrangement of colors, Red Curve and Blue Curve are expressive of the careful choice of color and love of shape that undermines his oeuvre. River II is a most interesting and unique print. As art critic Dave Hickey points out in an essay accompanying an exhibition of the Rivers series at Gemini, all of the prints belonging to this series are illustrative of Kelly’s interests across media throughout his artistic career in that they feature large scale as in his paintings, a sense of texture as in his weathered-steel and wooden sculptures, collage as in his early years, chance through their random combination of patterns, and, lastly, the prominent relation to nature that holds together his entire artistic output.

“We are thrilled to provide this unique vision of Ellsworth Kelly as a printmaker in collaboration with Gemini G.E.L., whose lithographic studios in Los Angeles became Kelly’s laboratory to expand the possibilities of the medium. Kelly belongs to a generation of post-war artists that understood art beyond the traditional constrains of easel painting. It’s fascinating to see how this vision fueled his interest in making more than 300 prints through his career,” declares art historian Joan Robledo-Palop, Founder and CEO of Zeit Contemporary Art. “For Kelly, the making of a good print involved a series of intuitive decisions about shape, color, the relationship of color to shape, and the relationship of colored shape to the field of paper it rests on. We are delighted with this collaboration with Zeit Contemporary Art as well as with the interest of new generations in the work of Ellsworth Kelly,” explains Joni Weyl, co-owner of Gemini G.E.L. This viewing room thus acts as an ode to Kelly and Gemini G.E.L. and the collaborations that led to these enduring works of art.

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©2021 Zeit Contemporary Art, Ellsworth Kelly

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