Barebones; Thoroughly Modern Minimalism

By Georgina Sussman


Minimalist. Vibrant. Inspired.

All words that can easily describe many artists, but these words when they intertwine with one and other match perfectly to the American painter, sculptor and printmaker, Ellsworth Kelly! Whilst living and working in Spencertown New York, Ellsworth Kelly created contemporary masterpieces that cannot be compared to. Kelly is most commonly associated with hard-edge painting, colour field and minimalism accentuating the use of line, colour and form in his works. The serenity that is found in his work is unlike any other as the bold colours and sharp lines weld together to create a sense of peace and visual pleasure.337 c EK

After his experience in the army in World War II,  Kelly studied at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and then went onto the École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris, when combined all of these events carried a large impact on Kelly’s life and work. Although Kelly didn’t attend classes in Paris frequently, he did spend his time reviewing and revelling in all of the art culture there, eventually getting to observe and visiting artists such as Alberto Giacometti and Francis Picabia in their own studios which transformed and inspired aspects of his own vision.

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The Betty Parsons Gallery was the first gallery to host Ellsworth Kelly’s exhibition in May 1956 which was really the starting point of success in career. Kelly’s work was considered more European therefore struggling to take off in the art world there, but with a lot of hard work and the art world beginning to appreciate his style, it did.

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Kelly’s works evoke emotional and physical responses to the strong yet refined aesthetics that take colour and structure to new levels. Kelly’s real-life observations inspire his works to recreate the visuals that he has experienced, whether that be movements, shapes or shadows, the artist undoubtedly took interpretation to new heights. Kelly’s use of colour is what really set him apart from the rest, the innovative way of combining colours, colour blocking and abstract interpretation, conjures a sense of  personal passion towards each painting as individuals and as a collection. Along with a wave of artists, Kelly set the bar for the barebones of Abstract Expressionism.

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As one of the most influential and distinctive artists of our time, Kelly’s works have been documented religiously, and Phaidon’s book “Ellsworth Kelly”, first published in 2015 is one of the last books that was created in close collaboration with Kelly. The wonderfully eloquent and illustrated book maps the projects from the earliest in the 1940s to his final few projects in 2015. What’s really mesmerizing about the book is that it feels very personal and insightful at the same time.


The book analyses how Kelly’s life impacted the works of art that he created, and where his influences lay, be it in Paris or in the War, both being equally as important to his development as an artist. With over 350 illustrations and a survey text by Tricia Paik, an expert on Kelly, the book takes the reader on one of the most visual and intense journeys through Kelly’s lifeworks and his life as an artist.


Phaidon’s Ellsworth Kelly is an absoloute must-have for those who want to understand thorough, modern minimalism at its finest.

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Available Here.

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