Ellsworth Kelly: The Early Drawings 1948-1955 – sold out

Yve Alain-Bois

Harvard University Art Museums & Richter Verlag, 2003


out of stock

Our copy is still in the original wrapping, never opened.

Yve-Alain Bois, the Harvard art historian, had an idea. He believed that through drawing, Ellsworth Kelly evolved “four different strategies for making art: chance, the transfer, the modular grid, and the monochrome panel, all of which served the overriding goal of developing an alternative to traditional composing that would be both radically inventive and stubbornly impersonal.” So begins this thoughtfully conceived and beautifully produced catalog for an exhibition organized by the Harvard University Art Museums and the Kunstmuseum Winterthur, Switzerland, that covers only an early, seven-year period in the life of this prolific abstract painter.
Bois’s essay is filled with remarkable insights into Kelly’s drawings and working methods during his sojourn in post-World War II France. Bois has an artist’s mind: he refers to “the painter’s attention to visual noise, to the ‘insignificant’ leftovers in the visual realm.” And he explains what a rare, almost impossible luxury this “estrangement” from the world would have been for ordinary French citizens during reconstruction.

Brilliant and nourishing though Bois’s essay is, however, it is appropriately upstaged by the impeccably reproduced drawings, collages, and paintings on paper, which leave the reader breathless. These studies are like fireworks: they explode in dozens of directions, putting the viewer in mind of artists as disparate as Barnett Newman, Howard Hodgkin, Henri Matisse, David Hockney, Richard Diebenkorn, Mark Rothko, and Brice Marden. The book opens with the typical young artist’s drawing of his work table, then quickly shifts to the most extraordinary seaweed drawing, with a second one in gouache, giving pause to any reader who thought Kelly’s much later leaf drawings fell from nowhere. There are, of course, the colored grids (Spectrum Colors Arranged by Chance), the cut-up grids such as the sketch for Cite, a study for Yellow on Yellow, and nearly 200 other color plates, all reproduced with the kind of accuracy that allows you to imagine you’ve held them in your hands.

This is a book that even before it’s opened looks as if it might be essential, especially for artists. Hundreds of pages later, that first impression is amply confirmed. –Peggy Moorman



264 pages, 180 color illustrations, 28 x 29,5 cm, hardcover, English