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Ellsworth Kelly: Painting into Sculpture

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Blog post revisiting William Rubin's 1963 article “Ellsworth Kelly: The big form,” republished on the occasion of four recent exhibitions of Kelly's work at Matthew Marks Gallery, New York.

In the article Rubin wrote: "Working from flat Purist painting such as had been in vogue with the Abstraction-Creation group and the painters of the Réalités nouvelles in France, Kelly forged, during the early ‘fifties, a style manifestly his own. The process involved, as I see it, certain fundamental transformations of the inherited manner: the introduction of intense color into a starkly reserved and ascetic style, producing a peculiarly American combination of the hedonistic and the puritanical; the invention of a vocabulary of affective shapes, which, though vaguely recalling Arp’s biomorphism, are distinctly personal; the use of the frame to implement ambiguities in figure-ground relationships and facilitate a new and unusual sense of scale. Though the resultant work has affinities with the flat, simple, heraldic compositions favored by some other, and later, young American painters, Kelly’s development has been resolutely inner-directed: neither a reaction to Abstract-Expressionism nor the outcome of a dialogue with his contemporaries."

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