What I Learned Working for Ellsworth Kelly

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Matthew Garrison writes about his experience as a studio assistant to Ellsworth Kelly.

Garrison recalls: "I became an 'assistant to his assistant,' with varied responsibilities: I stretched canvas, prepared the backing of finished paintings, inventoried sketchbooks, and set the studio up for visits. Perfection was always the goal. Kelly explained that the back of a canvas must reflect the precision of its front. But he never allowed anyone in the studio when painting; this was a solitary endeavor requiring uninterrupted concentration. While Kelly painted, I tended the lawn, worked in the office, and maintained the sculpture on his property. In the morning or afternoon I would eagerly return to the studio to straighten up and clean brushes, affording me the opportunity to witness the day-to-day development of his work. One morning Kelly asked me, 'Do you see anything different with this painting?' I responded that the blue was darker. 'No,' he said smiling, 'I worked on the purple yesterday.' Kelly was a master of perception in all its nuances. The result of subtle changes to one color effectively shifted the value of all the colors in a piece."

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