I featured the artwork of Ellsworth Kelly on my blog both on November 23, 2015 and December 17, 2015. Also I mailed him a letter on November 23, 2015, but I never heard back from him. Unfortunately he died on December 27, 2015 at the age of 92.
Who were the artists who influenced Ellsworth Kelly?
Below these words of Roy Saper we take a closer look at Picasso and Francis Schaeffer’s comments later on Picasso’s technique concerning how he painted them.
In 1943 Picasso (age 62) then kept company with young art student Françoise Gilot (born in 1921). Their two children were Claude (1947) and Paloma (1949) who was named for the dove of peace that Picasso painted in support of the peace movement post World War II. Gilot, frustrated with Picasso’s relationships with other woman and his abusive nature left him in 1953. Gilot’s book “Life with Picasso” was published 11 years after their separation. In 1970 she married American physician-researcher Jonas Salk (who later died in 1995).
Picasso and Françoise with their two children were Claude (1947) and Paloma (1949) pictured below in the early 1950’s.
Picasso’s drawing, Portrait of Francoise, from 1946:
Francis Schaeffer in the episode, “The Age of Fragmentation,” Episode 8 of HOW SHOULD WE THEN LIVE? noted:
Gauguin, Seurat, all great post Impressionists felt the problem, felt the loss of meaning. They set out to solve the problem, to find the way back to reality, to the absolute behind the individual things, behind the particulars, ultimately they failed. I am not saying that these
painters were always consciously painting their philosophy of life, but rather in their work as a whole their worldview was often reflected. Cezanne reduced nature to what he considered its basic geometric forms. In this he was searching for an universal which would tie all kinds of individual things in nature together, but this gave a broken fragmented appearance to his pictures. In his bathers there is much freshness, much vitality. An absolute wonder in the balance of the picture as a whole, but he portrayed not only nature but also man himself in fragmented form.
I want to stress that I am not minimizing these men as men. To read van Gogh’s letters is to weep for the pain of this sensitive man. Nor do I minimize their talent as painters. Their work often has great beauty indeed. But their art did become the vehicle of modern man’s view of fractured truth and light. As philosophy had moved from unity to fragmentation so did painting. In 1912 Kaczynski wrote an article saying that in so far as the old harmony, that is an unity of knowledge have been lost, that only two possibilities remained: extreme abstraction or extreme naturalism, both he said were equal.
time. In great art technique is united with worldview and the technique of fragmentation works well with the worldview of modern man. A view of a fragmented world and a fragmented man and a complete break with the art of the Renaissance which was founded on man’s humanist hopes.
points of their relationship he painted them as they really were with all his genius, with all their humanity. When he was painting his own young children he did not use fragmented techniques and presentation. I want you to understand that I am not saying that gentleness and humanness is not present in modern art, but as the techniques of modern art advanced, humanity was increasingly
fragmented. The opposite of fragmentation would be unity, and the old philosophic thinkers thought they could bring forth this unity from the humanist base and then they gave this up.
Olga Khokhlova and Picasso (1917-1927)
In 1917 ballerina Olga Khokhlova (1891-1955) met Picasso while the artist was designing the ballet “Parade” in Rome, to be performed by the Ballet Russe.
They married in the Russian Orthodox church in Paris in 1918 and lived a life of conflict.
She was of high society and enjoyed formal events while Picasso was more bohemian in his interests and pursuits.
Their son Paulo (Paul) was born in 1921 (and died in 1975), influencing Picasso’s imagery to turn to mother and child themes. Paul’s three children are Pablito (1949-1973), Marina (born in 1951), and Bernard (1959). Some of the Picassos in this Saper Galleries exhibition are from Marina and Bernard’s personal Picasso collection.
Portrait of Paul Picasso as a Child. 1923. Oil on canvas.
Collection of Paul Picasso, Paris, France.
How Should We Then Live – Episode 8 – The Age of Fragmentation
Art This Week-At the Blanton Museum of Art-Ellsworth Kelly Symposium, Part 3-Questions
When I visited Ellsworth Kelly at his upstate New York studio in the hamlet of Spencertown in late 2011 for the London Times, he was then 88. After our introductions, the first thing I noticed were the thin rubber tubes in his nose, connected, via snaking thicker rubber tubes, to oxygen canisters.
As we walked from room to room, Kelly discarded one headset of rubber tubes for another.
The artist, who died Sunday at 92, didn’t seem frail when I met him. He moved and spoke slowly and carefully. Jack Shear, Kelly’s partner of then-27, now-31 years’ standing, ran his life and business affairs with the help of an assistant.
Two art assistants stretched Kelly’s canvases for him, but Kelly mixed all his own oil paints and did his own painting. Not for him the production-line assembly-making artistic practice of Jeff Koons.
For one of the last living American artistic greats—his compadre Jasper Johns is another—Kelly was working hard. When we met there was a show of his giant wood sculptures in Boston, and exhibitions featuring his drawings of plants and new black-and-white canvases in Munich.
He was about to exhibit new color canvases at Matthew Marks, his New York gallery.
“They just found out my heart doesn’t make enough oxygen,” Kelly told me, showing me those new color paintings. “The machines make oxygen, then I have tanks I carry around outside. I guess it’s my age. I smoked in Paris for a few years, but that was years ago. They said my blood was in bad shape for a non-smoker, and all I can think is it’s the turpentine that I’ve been using for 60 years.”
He had been in Madrid for the opening of a show when he had trouble breathing and “found I couldn’t walk that much.”
Kelly was much more interested in talking about the paintings in front of us than his life.
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I had always enjoyed Kelly’s work; the vivid blasts of color on canvases sometimes curved, sometimes sharply angled, sometimes square, sometimes semi-circular—color displayed in so many shapes, and contrasted to other colors—always made this gallery-goer simply stop, smile, and think. Kelly’s work seems to embody to me the heart of how visually immersive and mentally nourishing art could be.
As we stood in the studio, he indicated the paintings in front of us: beautiful, vivid contrast of color that used relief and radial curves. Orange overlapped blue, blue overlapped black.
If you want to encounter Kelly’s work in all its many glories, Phaidon recently published an impressive career-spanning monograph of his work, by Tricia Palk.
Kelly told me he became first interested in relief when he started painting in 1949 in Paris, white on whites at first, before his best-known early work, the 64 panels in Colors for a Large Wall, first used multiple colors.
“I was painting figuratively in 1948 and 1949, then asked myself, ‘What am I going to do?’” he recalled. “I could see what Picasso and Matisse were doing, and I met [Francis] Picabia, [Georges] Vantongerloo, and Giacometti. He was wonderful, very whimsical. He came to an opening of mine, and said, ‘Oh, you’re the one who did that big picture [‘Colors’]; let’s look at it.’
“He liked it and I said I’d like to see him once in a while, but I never stayed long. I last saw him at La Coupole. He sat down. My companion and I stood up, and knocked our glasses of water over. He looked at us and said, ‘Wow, you guys are really impressed, aren’t you?’”
Kelly bumped into Picasso, his enduring inspiration, “several times in some strange ways,” including when he was 24, walking near the artist’s Parisian studio, when Picasso’s car almost backed into him.
“Picasso was a rogue, really, a wild guy, the most competent and creative of all the artists in that school in Paris,” Kelly told me. “He and Matisse flowed back to each other and influenced each other.”
A visitor looks a painting by US artist Ellsworth Kelly on June 18, 2010 part of an exhibition at the Villa Medici, the headquarters of the French Academy in Rome.
Kelly’s most dramatic encounter had been with Joan Miró at the Spanish painter’s studio in Majorca in the ’60s.
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“He was worried about his place with the new generation of Abstract Expressionists. I was the messenger. He said desperately, ‘What’s going on with these American painters? I’m being forgotten.’ I said, ‘You’re not being forgotten; you’re the master Miró.’”
I asked why Kelly had chosen to major in the abstract. “The figurative seemed too personal,” he replied. “There was nothing more that I could do after Matisse, Picasso, Brancusi, and Mondrian. I felt like I had to do something I hadn’t seen before, and in Paris I began to see new things like architecture, which echoed that. I began to look at things and make them abstract.”
Of his 1953 painting, “Seine,” he told the Guardian: “I lived on the Île Saint-Louis. Every night, walking home, I would walk down the outside quay and see the lights from the bridges on the water. I would just stand there and look at those reflections, and I thought: I want to do something that looks like this. But I don’t want to do a Pointillist painting. I said, I want to do something that flickers.
“So I wrote down 40 numbers and I put them in the box, one through 40.” He pulled out a single number—it must have been 21—and painted a single rectangle halfway down the left side of the canvas. “Then I picked out two numbers, then three, four, five, six, until I got to the black in the center. Then when I got halfway I started reversing it.”
Kelly’s formative adventures in Paris sounded far removed from his dreary New Jersey upbringing.
He told me he had been closer to his father, Allan, an insurance company executive, than to his mother, Florence. He had been a “very solitary” small boy who didn’t like sports. His paternal grandmother and mother took him bird-watching, an early inspiration, as most birds featured two or three defining colors: “I was astounded by the abstraction of the colors of the birds,” he told me. He was also ill with a lung disease that, before modern surgery, doctors had to cut into his back to treat.
A visitor looks at the artwork ‘Two Panels – Blue-Yellow’ (1970) by US artist Ellsworth Kelly as part of the exhibition “J’aime les panoramas” (I love the panoramas) at the Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilisations (MUCEM) in Marseille, southern France on November 2, 2015. The exhibition will run from November 4, 2015 to February 29, 2016.
“I felt a little bit outside my family,” he said. “I’ve never been a family person at all, because it’s not very smart. You have to find yourself. Parents have their job, I suppose, but most of them are more interested in themselves, and if they only let their children alone, some of them might have a few of their own ideas or go wild.”
After attending the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, he joined the Army and a unit nicknamed the Ghost Army, “nowhere near the front line,” devoted to creating objects such as inflatable tanks to deceive the enemy.
In 1946 he enrolled at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, “where all I did was draw and paint nudes.” He hitchhiked to New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art to see the work of Picasso and Brancusi.
In New York, Kelly knew Andy Warhol in the late ’50s, when Warhol was very young and “always wearing suits. He had his Factory, and frankly I was not very much moved by that.”
Kelly and a group of artists including Robert Indiana and Agnes Martin lived and worked together in Lower Manhattan. He was good friends with Roy Lichtenstein (“serious, a very hard worker, whimsical”) and told me he had stayed in touch with Jasper Johns, although there seemed to be a froideur there.
A woman looks at the pieces “Red curve in relief” (R) and “Concorde relief” by American artist Ellsworth Kelly during an open day at the Fondation Louis Vuitton in the Bois de Boulogne park in Paris on October 24, 2014. Emerging from the woods at the edge of Paris like a glass ship, the hyper-modern Louis Vuitton art museum was inaugurated on October 20, kicking off an art-filled week in the French capital. AFP PHOTO / FRANCOIS GUILLOT
–RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE, MANDATORY CREDIT OF THE ARTIST, TO ILLUSTRATE THE EVENT AS SPECIFIED IN THE CAPTION —
(Photo credit should read FRANCOIS GUILLOT/AFP/Getty Images)
When I asked if they were friends, Kelly said, “I need to be careful what I say. I see him once in a while—close friends, well, no, but as friends go…yeah, he’s a good one.”
Given his own stature, I wondered how Kelly felt about Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin, and other high-rolling celebrity artists. “You can’t avoid their work,” he said. “It’s complicated. Younger artists are searching for a new way; their painting, performance art, scattered art—a lot of it is figurative, and I automatically discount anything figurative. I’ve lived for 60 years with abstraction. I left figurative art because I was bored of it. Why make art of something you’ve looked at? I want to make art of something I haven’t seen before. I’m not a talking person. Words don’t come as easily as ideas do. I don’t feel it’s normal to be open about things. Tracey Emin loves the opposite.”
“I don’t like exposure,” Kelly told me. “I see the auction catalogues. I know Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst make art objects which sell for a lot of money, but they’re on different plane than Picasso, Matisse, Pollock, de Kooning, and Rothko. There’s a tradition of painting, of art, which is being broken up with their kind of performance and entertainment.”
There was an air of sadness about him, and I asked, gently, if Kelly had suffered from depression.
“Yes, I have,” he said tersely. “Two years ago. It’s all part of growing old. You can’t understand it. I kept it to myself. You don’t talk about it. Then things get better. There are medicines for things like that.”
Did he take them? “Yes, all old people take half a dozen pills. I have good doctors. I feel great now that I’ve got my oxygen. I can paint. I can do everything except move around, I can’t fly. My doctor said my depression was like getting a disease as you get older. You lose some of the chemicals in your body, and they give you the right chemicals to fill in what you lost.”
Shear brought us lunch. He is extremely handsome, with a luxuriant sweep of salt and pepper hair. At 62 (now, 58, then) he is 30 years Kelly’s junior; he had told me earlier on the drive from the train station that the couple had met in a photo-print shop in Los Angeles where Shear worked.
Shear “protected,” as he put it, Kelly from many things. The “deal” when they got together was that Shear couldn’t paint or sculpt, “which was fine by me,” Shear told me (Kelly had experienced being “used” professionally by other partners, he said).
A woman walks on the stairs which lead down to an exhibition of panel paintings by artist Ellsworth Kelly durin an exhibition preview on June 19, 2013 at The Phillips Collection in Washington, DC.
Jack seems lovely, I said to Kelly. “Oh, he’s wonderful, very generous, very smart. He’s a good photographer, too,” said Kelly.
You’ve been together for 27 years, I said.
Kelly smiled. “It seems like…pffftt,” he said, gesturing to time passing in a flash. “He’s got a wonderful head on his shoulders, and we talk a lot.”
Were his parents finally proud of him? I asked. “My dad was. Very. He liked seeing me in newspapers. With my mother, it felt like a block. They wanted me to come to see them in New Jersey, but I would only spend the afternoon there. I did my duty. They were very ordinary, and I think that in order to do the painting I do, I am extraordinary, different, extraordinarily different. In some way growing up in my mother’s house made me a painter.”
He added, “There wasn’t much interaction there, and I think with a lot of creative people the desire to create is because there’s an emptiness to be filled. And I had that, from the age of 12 to 25. You have to become an adult, to live your life, and that emptiness—that’s what my painting was about.”
I asked if he felt fulfilled, and his answer took in how he felt about mortality, too.
“You look back at all the work you’ve done—and I’ve done more than 1,000 works—and that’s fulfilling enough. Death is inevitable. I want another 20 years, but you never know. Can I live to be 100? It would be nice. Now that I have my oxygen I can keep going, and the rest of my body seems OK, but the lungs are important, and if the doctors say it’s getting worse, it just depends on how much time I have left. But I feel pretty good, and I have been exercising.”
“I like your eyebrows. They’re very strong,” Kelly told me as I was leaving.
If you love Kelly’s bold, warm, enveloping canvases—their slashes of color, their angles, their shapes, their mastery of shape and contrast—you can perhaps understand why I will always cherish that compliment.
Ronald Davis, and his life-size optical illusion
Ronald Davis, a.k.a. Ron Davis (born 1937), is an American painter whose work is associated with geometric abstraction, abstract illusionism, lyrical abstraction, hard-edge painting, shaped canvas painting, color fieldpainting, and 3D computer graphics. He is a veteran of nearly seventy solo exhibitions and hundreds of group exhibitions. Since the late 1960s, Ronald Davis has been an important figure in the world of abstract art. Using a painting style incorporating the freedom of Jackson Pollock, the spatial perspective of the Renaissance, and the precision of Piet Mondrian, Davis became known for his illusionary qualities which were previously missing within abstract art. Employing new technologies of the time, Davis became a master of geometric perspective, paint handling, color, and space. His style evolved from hard-edged, optical paintings to geometric, illusionistic paintings, using polyester resin and fiberglass. He later explored sound sculpture, silkscreening, lithography, etching, papermaking, a return to acrylic painting and computer-based painting. Davis makes apt analogies between the materials and techniques of traditional painting and the digital tools of graphic imaging. His recourse to modeling, texturing, and rendering software with a mouse and a keyboard requires the same artistic decision making as a traditional painter’s deployment of conventional perspective, modeling, brushwork, and finishing of the painted surface. If the comparison breaks down on formal grounds, it breaks in favor of the digital image. Its technology enables the artist to realize desired qualities of color and light at a level far superior to what can be achieved with hand-applied techniques and organic, volatile, and perishable mediums. Davis has numerous exhibitions to his name, including both solo shows and group exhibitions. His work has been exhibited in galleries, such as the Laguna Art Museum in Laguna Beach, CA, and the New Orleans Museum of Modern Art in City Park, NO. Some of his artwork continues to be displayed at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, NY, and at the Tate Gallery in London, England. He continues to reside on his ranch in Arroyo Hondo, NM.
Santa Monica, California,
|Education||University of Wyoming, San Francisco Art Institute|
|Movement||Abstract Expressionism,Geometric abstraction, Abstract Illusionism, Lyrical Abstraction,Hard-edge painting, Shaped canvas painting, Color fieldpainting, Digital art, Digital painting and 3D Computer Graphics|
|Awards||1962 Yale-Norfolk Summer School Grantee|
Ronald “Ron” Davis (born 1937), is an American painter whose work is associated with Geometric abstraction, Abstract Illusionism, Lyrical Abstraction, Hard-edge painting,Shaped canvas painting, Color field painting, and 3D Computer Graphics. He is a veteran of nearly seventy solo exhibitions and hundreds of group exhibitions.
Born in Santa Monica, California, he was raised in Cheyenne, Wyoming. In 1955–56 he attended the University of Wyoming. In 1959 at the age of 22 became interested in painting. In 1960–64 he attended the San Francisco Art Institute. Abstract Expressionism, the prevailing artistic movement of the time, would have an influence on many of his future works. In 1962 he was a Yale-Norfolk Summer School Grantee. In 1963 his paintings became hard-edged, geometric and optical in style, and by 1964 his works were shown in important museums and galleries. He lived and worked in Los Angeles, CA, 1965–71; and in Malibu, CA, 1972–1990. Since 1991 he has lived and worked in Arroyo Hondo, New Mexico on the outskirts of Taos, New Mexico.
Ronald Davis from the earliest days of his career had a significant impact on contemporary abstract painting of the mid-1960s. According to art critic Michael Fried: “Ron Davis is a young California artist whose new paintings, recently shown at the Tibor de Nagy Gallery in New York, are among the most significant produced anywhere during the past few years, and place him, along with Stella and Bannard, at the forefront of his generation.” He had his first one-person exhibition at the Nicholas Wilder Gallery in Los Angeles in 1965.
Barbara Rose wrote an in depth essay about Ronald Davis’ paintings of the 1960s in the catalogue accompanying an exhibition of his Dodecagon Series in 1989 in Los Angeles. Among other observations she wrote: “Davis saw a way to use Duchamp‘s perspective studies and transparent plane in The Large Glass for pictorial purposes. Instead of glass, he used fiberglass to create a surface that was equally transparent and detached from any illusion of reality. Because his colored pigments are mixed into a fluid resin and harden quickly, multiple layers of color may be applied without becoming muddy. his is essentially an inversion of Old Masterlayering and glazing except that color is applied behind rather than on top of the surface. Alone among his contemporaries, Ronald Davis was equally concerned with traditional problems of painting: space, scale, detail, color relationships and illusions as he was with the California emphasis on hi-tech craft and industrial materials. How to reconcile the literal object produced with the latest technology with transcendental metaphor became the problem that occupied throughout the Sixties.” 
In a letter to the Tate Gallery, which had acquired the 1968 painting Vector, Davis described the technique he began using in 1966:
Fiberglass cloth and mat replaced canvas as reinforcement and support for the colored resin (paint). They were painted with a brush face down on a waxed Formica table mold. The illusionary plane nearest the viewer was masked out with tape and painted first, the furthest away was painted last. Layers of fiberglass impregnated with resin were laminated to the back of the painting… The completed painting was peeled from the waxed mold and polished.
In an Artforum article in 1970 artist/art critic Walter Darby Bannard commented: “Though Davis is plagued by “series” ideas, and has yet to get a grip on the inherent monumentality of his style, he is young and inspired, and these things will evolve naturally.” From 1966 to 1972 Ron Davis created geometric shaped, illusionistic paintings using polyester resins and fiberglass. About Davis’ paintings of the late 1960s in an essay accompanying the Ronald Davis retrospective exhibition Forty Years of Abstraction, at the Butler Institute of American Art in 2002, the abstract painter Ronnie Landfield wrote: “the Dodecagons from 1968–69 remain among the most visually stunning, audacious and intellectually interesting bodies of work made by an abstract painter in the last half of the twentieth century.”
In 1966 Davis was an instructor at the University of California, Irvine. Also in that year he had his first one-man exhibition at the Tibor de Nagy Gallery in New York City and a solo exhibition at Leo Castelli Gallery in 1968.
His works are held in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, the Tate Gallery, London, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Art Institute of Chicago and he has been awarded aNational Endowment for the Arts grant. Since the 1990s, he has worked in digital painting and digital art.
- Lyrical Abstraction, Exhibition Catalogue, the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, Ridgefield, Conn. 1970.
- Lyrical Abstraction, Exhibition Catalogue, Whitney Museum of American Art, NYC, 1971.
- Michael Fried. “Ronald Davis: Surface and Illusion.” Artforum, vol. 5, no. 8. April, 1967. pp. 37–41, Cover Illus.: Six-Ninths Blue, 1966
- 1965 Nicholas Wilder Gallery
- RONALD DAVIS – Objects and Illusions, retrieved online May 9, 2008
- Walter Darby Bannard. “Notes on American Painting of the Sixties.” Artforum, January 1970, vol. 8, no. 5, pp.40-45.
- The Essence Of Abstraction, retrieved online May 9, 2008
- MoMA collection website
- Ron Davis in the Tate Collection
- Ronald Davis Digital Art
- Charlotte Jackson presents: Ronald Davis Digital art
- Barbara Rose. American Painting. Part Two: The Twentieth Century. Published by Skira – Rizzoli, New York, 1969, pp. 230, 234. Color Plate: Disk, 1968
- Barbara Rose. “Abstract Illusionism.” Artforum, October 1967
- Robert Hughes. “Ron Davis at Kasmin.” Studio International, December 1968, vol. 176, no.906, pp 264–265.
- John Elderfield. “New Paintings by Ron Davis.” Artforum, vol. 9, no. 7, March 1971, pp. 32–34.
- Paul Goldberger. “Studied Slapdash.” The New York Times Magazine, January 18, 1976, pp. 48–50. Photos and article on Ron Davis’ Studio
- Hilton Kramer. “The Return of Illusionism.” The New York Times, Arts and Leisure. Sunday, May 28, 1978, p. 25
- Nancy Marmer, “Ron Davis: Beyond Flatness,” Artforum, November 1976, pp. 34–37.