Ellsworth Kelly: Chatham Series

Ellsworth Kelly. Chatham VI: Red Blue. 1971

Oil on canvas, two panels, 9' 6 1/2" x 8' 6 1/4" (290.8 x 259.7 cm). Gift of Douglas S. Cramer Foundation. © 2022 Ellsworth Kelly

Curator, Ann Temkin: I’m Ann Temkin, The Marie Josee and Henry Kravis Chief Curator of Painting and Sculpture here at The Museum of Modern Art. In 1971, artist Ellsworth Kelly created this series of 14 large paintings in his studio in Chatham, New York. The works are made from pairs of colored panels joined together in an inverted ell shape. This was the first time the artist experimented with such a compositional arrangement. He limited his colors to a narrow range of black, white, red, blue, yellow, and green.

Kelly did not set out to make a systematic or comprehensive series. Instead, as always, he proceeded by intuition to arrive at the final number of paintings and the color combinations in each. For every painting the artist mixed a new batch of paint, making unique colors for each painting. And as a result no two are exactly alike. I visited Ellsworth Kelly at his studio in the summer of 2012 to discuss his work.

Artist, Ellsworth Kelly: All of my colors are mixed in depth in order to paint. I put white in the colors—sometimes I don’t like a brash color. Most of my colors like the reds, yellows, greens, too, and blues have bits of white in it to make it more restive. Every time I mix a blue, I don’t know what I’m coming up with.

Ann Temkin: Looking at the surface, you can make out Kelly’s brushstrokes, but just barely. Rather than revealing a personal painting style or gesture on the canvas, he was more interested in creating a work that would relate to the space around it.

Ellsworth Kelly: I want to get it as quiet as possible because I didn’t want your eye to concentrate on the surface. With my pictures, I felt that I’m using the space between the picture and the viewer to concentrate on, so I don’t want marks – it’s a BIG mark – it’s a whole.

Ann Temkin: To hear about Kelly’s studio in Chatham and his collages on view in the adjacent gallery press play.

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