National Gallery of Art presents Ellsworth Kelly. Colored Paper Images

National Gallery of Art in Washington presents Ellsworth Kelly. Colored Paper Images, an exhibition on view through December 1, 2013. The exhibition includes 23 paper-pulp works by the seminal American artist. Drawn entirely from the Gallery’s collection.

Ellsworth Kelly Colored Paper Image XII (Blue Curve with Brown and Gray), 1976 colored and pressed paper pulp sheet (irregular): 118.43 x 82.87 cm (46 5/8 x 32 5/8 in.) National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Professional Art Group I © Ellsworth Kelly

When unveiled in 1977, Ellsworth Kelly’s (born 1923) Colored Paper Images stood apart from the crisp angles and curves and pristine monochrome surfaces for which he was best known. Each of the Colored Paper Images features erratic edges, irregular textures, and pools and drifts of alluring color.

The Colored Paper Images were created using colored and pressed paper pulp. Kelly worked with textured, white, handmade paper. Shaped molds were placed on dampened individual sheets and colored liquefied paper pulp was spooned into the molds. When the pulp settled, the molds were removed and the white sheet and colored pulp were run through a printing press, fusing the damp paper layers and producing “bleeds.” The path of the bleeds was as unpredictable as the colored shape’s contours. Multiple impressions were made of each image, resulting in an edition that is visually variable. The project, realized at the HMP Paper Mill in Woodstock, Connecticut, resulted in 23 different prints with editions published by Tyler Graphics Ltd.

Kelly distills his abstractions from a wide array of sources: tree branches, window cornices, cast shadows, and more. Such motifs are reduced and refined through intuition rather than mathematical calculation. His resulting forms transcend the original motif to become unique inventions with scale, contour, color, and texture locked into remarkable equilibrium. While Kelly has periodically allowed accident to play a role in his works, he has never done so more dramatically than in the Color Paper Images.

A key figure in postwar abstraction, Kelly was influenced by the European art he sought out while stationed overseas during World War II and subsequently while living in France from 1948 to 1954. Diverse influences shaped his vision, from romanesque architecture to the work of Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse. Personal contact with modernists such as the Romanian sculptor Constantin Brancusi and the French artist Jean Arp contributed significantly to his thinking. Their reductive and evocative forms were formative influences for Kelly, as was the automatic drawing of the surrealists. Returning to the United States in the mid-1950s, Kelly’s art appeared cool and refined compared with the emotionally charged work of the abstract expressionists who then dominated the New York art world. Kelly’s art was likewise removed from the geometric abstraction of Josef Albers and Ad Reinhardt, for example, who leaned strongly toward theory rather than Kelly’s more intuitive approach. While Kelly championed the modernist concept of the abstract painting as object—rather than the painting as a means of depiction—he has alternately created elegant plant drawings made directly from nature.

The exhibition is organized by the National Gallery of Art, Washington.

For information call (202) 737-4215 or the Telecommunications Device for the Deaf (TDD) at (202) 842-6176, or visit the Gallery’s Web site at www.nga.gov.

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