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Ellsworth Kelly Died at 92

Ellsworth Kelly
Credit: AP Photo/Matt Rourke

The abstract artist was one of the great 20th-century American artists.


Ellsworth Kelly at a press preview at the The Barnes Foundation Tuesday, April 30, 2013, in Philadelphia

One of America's most prominent post-World War II artists, Ellsworth Kelly died at his home in Spencertown, N.Y., according to gallery owner Matthew Marks, who has represented the artist for two decades. Kelly is survived by his husband, the photographer Jack Shear.

His work was known for combining simple shapes found from everyday life with just one pure, bold color.

"I've always been a colorist," he told NPR in 2013. "I think I started when I was very young, being a birdwatcher fascinated by the bird colors." He added:

"I feel that I like color in its strongest sense. I don't like mixed colors that much, like plum color or deep, deep colors that are hard to define. I liked red, yellow, blue, black and white -- [that] was what I started with."

Ellsworth Kelly Green Blue Black Red

'Green Blue Black Red' | Credit: Jerry L. Thompson/Courtesy of Ellsworth Kelly

As with many in his generation, Kelly was reticent to share much about his private life (Out requested to photograph him several times over the years but the editors' offers were politely declined).

In 2012, writer A.M. Homes visited Kelly and Shear at their Spencertown home and studio, the latter designed by Richard Gluckman, for a story in W magazine. It was a time of great productivity, with many more exhibits and work shown than many would expect from a man in his final years. As Homes wrote:

"For the past 28 years, Kelly has shared his life with the photographer Jack Shear, the director of the Ellsworth Kelly Foundation. Theirs is a civilized country life: Kelly works a full day in the studio and returns to the house by seven. Dinner is served at eight, after which Kelly reads and watches a little television--especially Downton Abbey--or plays on the computer. (His favorite game is Spider Solitaire.) The intimate portrait of Kelly taken by Shear is an insider's nod to Shear's 1985 book Four Marines and Other Portraits, which included images of shirtless men, among them a younger Kelly. Of the recent photos, Shear said, 'I thought, What can I do that no one else can, and that's photograph him naked. I didn't really photograph him naked, he just had his shirt off. But I sensed his vulnerability.' Kelly, he added, 'has done self-portraits his whole life. He's investigated what he looks like and how he sees himself.' "

Michael Govan, director of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, commented: "No other artist has pursued color and form as relentlessly and purely as Ellsworth." As Kelly told the New York Times in 1996:

"I think what we all want from art is a sense of fixity, a sense of opposing the chaos of daily living. This is an illusion, of course. What I've tried to capture is the reality of flux, to keep art an open, incomplete situation, to get at the rapture of seeing."

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