Ellsworth Kelly. Colors for a Large Wall. 1951

Ellsworth Kelly

Colors for a Large Wall

1951

Medium
Oil on canvas, sixty-four panels
Dimensions
7' 10 1/2" x 7' 10 1/2" (240 x 240 cm)
Credit
Gift of the artist
Object number
1067.1969.a-b
Copyright
© 2016 Ellsworth Kelly
Department
Painting and Sculpture
This work is not on view.
Ellsworth Kelly has 235 works online.
There are 2,308 paintings online.

Kelly arranged the sixty–four square panels of the grid in an arbitrary sequence, likening his method to the "the work of a bricklayer." Using squares of commercial colored paper left over from a previous series of collages, he first made a study for Colors for a Large Wall. Then he precisely matched the hues of the papers with oil paint, and arranged the final, full–size panels in strict adherence to the paper study.

Gallery label from 2006

"I have never been interested in painterliness," Kelly has said, using painterliness to mean "a very personal handwriting, putting marks on a canvas." There is no personal handwriting, nor even any marks as such, in Colors for a Large Wall, which comprises sixty-four abutting canvases, each the same size (a fraction under a foot square) and each painted a single color. Not even the colors themselves, or their position in relation to each other, could be called personal; Kelly derived them from commercial colored papers, and their sequence is arbitrary. Believing that "the work of an ordinary bricklayer is more valid than the artwork of all but a very few artists," he fused methodical procedure and a kind of apollonian detachment into a compositional principle.

As a serial, modular accumulation of objects simultaneously separate and alike, Colors for a Large Wall anticipated the Minimalism of the 1960s, but it is unlike Minimalism in the systematic randomness of its arrangement, which is founded on chance. Produced at the height of Abstract Expressionism (but quite independently of it, since Kelly had left New York for Paris), the work also has that art's mural scale, and Kelly thought deeply about the relationship of painting to architecture; but few Abstract Expressionists could have said, as he has, "I want to eliminate the 'I made this' from my work."

Publication excerpt from The Museum of Modern Art, MoMA Highlights, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, revised 2004, originally published 1999, p. 211

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