What Abstraction Means

Ellsworth Kelly Blue Yellow Red IV 1972

“For me, I just want to make works that mean something. And I don’t know where it comes from or what it means all the time. How can you know what abstraction means? So much abstraction that I see doesn’t have any meaning. It looks like design, a set-up. I want something that continues over time.” [Ellsworth Kelly in conversation with Gwyneth Paltrow]

Ellsworth Kelly Red Yellow Blue White and Black 1953

“When I got to Paris I did some Picasso type paintings of figures in the first six months. Then I stopped. I said, you know, “I didn’t come to Paris to [make] paintings that have been done. Saw a show in which the paintings were quite small. And I saw the windows which were about 15 feet. And I kept saying, “You know, I like these windows better than these paintings here.” I said, “I have to have one.” So, I painted the window. I made it so big I didn’t want to tell anyone what it was. I felt that it wasn’t really kosher to to do something like that. Then I began seeing things in Paris that I lifted. I made drawings of things, ideas of structure.
…“La Combe” developed from shadows on a stair case. I was fascinated by shadows. I felt like I was picking up something that was mysterious. I’m attracted to color and shape. I feel that people want a content. They’ve always had a content. You know, the figurative – right away – is a story. Abstraction has always been, “oh, it’s abstract.”
…I think my pictures need time. Time is very important with art. And a show, even though it’s a couple of weeks, or sometimes a month, that’s not enough time. You go to the gallery once. You see it ten minutes or so, then walk on. I like to leave my paintings – to be mysterious. I like them to be open. I feel like they have to be looked at. They have to be investigated.” [Interview with Ellsworth Kelly – SF MOMA]

Ellsworth Kelly Red Yellow Blue II 1965

One thought on “What Abstraction Means

  1. two interesting posts back to back

    the Marden paintings are wholly abstract yet were bracketed by the landscape concerns of the Grove Group

    the emotional tenor of these RYB works are tempered by those atmospheric paintings of sea and sky

    the RYB Kelly paintings here efface their sources yet have immediate precedents in paintings like ‘Seine’ and ‘Train Landscape’

    if there’s an anomaly to be found here it’s in Kelly’s atypical ‘monochrome’ from the early ’50s called ‘Tableau Verte’

    another ‘landscape’ which draws from the depths of Monet’s work and possessed of a type of specificity Kelly would henceforth eschew

    Marden has been revisiting these motifs in his most recent ‘Terre Verte’ paintings

    and in all respect the missing link here must be Ralph Humphrey

    his Frame Paintings are deeply influential

    and his ‘monochromes’ which are anything but were seen last fall in NYC:

    http://www.garthgreenan.com/exhibitions/ralph-humphrey-monochromes

    these paintings bear comparison in their constructed color with Joseph Marioni and the late Marcia Hafif

    who were a part of the Radical Painting crew active in the late ’70s which also included Olivier Mosset and Gunther Umberg

    the structural opposition at work here throughout these works mentioned is one of opacity / translucency

    brought forth in how the experience of pure hue is communicated

    this may not be ‘important’ per se but it is of interest especially in terms of perception and affect

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