About the Artist

Ellsworth Kelly photographed in 1965

Ellsworth Kelly photographed in 1965

Ellsworth Kelly was an American artist whose work opened the door for post-war artists to explore minimalism, hard-edge, Color Field paintings and Pop Art.

Early Life and Education

Ellsworth Kelly was born in Newburgh, New York in 1923 and raised in the small town of Oradell, New Jersey. He was the middle child of three sons, a shy, introverted child with a stutter. His father was an insurance company executive, his mother a school teacher. Kelly’s paternal grandmother took him to the nearby Oradell Reservoir to watch birds and introduced him to the work of John James Audubon, which had a profound influence on his later work and his desire to become an artist. Kelly’s parents were not enthusiastic about his choice of career, but they did pay for his classes at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. He attended Pratt until his induction into the Army in 1943. During the war, Kelly served, along with other artists, in The Ghost Army, that created camouflaged inflatable tanks and other military equipment.
After his discharge, Kelly studied at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and then went to Paris to study at the Ecole Nationale Superieure des Beaux-Arts. His time in Paris was spent painting and meeting other artists, whose works helped to shape his artistic vision.

Career and Family Life

Kelly returned to New York in 1954, after spending six years in Paris. The type of work he was doing, sometimes on multiple canvasses, were difficult for American audiences to understand. Three of his works were shown at the Whitney’s Young America 1957 exhibit and Kelly’s reputation and influence on other young artist’s began to grow. Kelly left New York City in 1970 and built a studio in upstate Spencertown, where he lived with his husband, photographer Jack Shear. Kelly died in Spencertown, in 2015, at aged 92.

Legacy

Kelly was not only a painter, but also a sculptor and printmaker. His works are included in the permanent collections of the Whitney, the Tate Modern, the Centre Pompidou and other major museums and galleries around the world. He was the recipient of many prestigious awards, including the National Medal of Arts.