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Property from the Estate of Sondra Gilman

Blue Red-Orange

Blue Red-Orange
signed, inscribed and dated '#341 KELLY '64-'65' (on the stretcher); signed with the artist's initials and inscribed again 'EK 341' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
75 x 69 3⁄4 in. (190.5 x 177.2 cm.)
Painted in 1964-1965.
Sidney Janis Gallery, New York
Private collection, New York
Anon. sale; Sotheby Parke Bernet Inc., New York, 3 May 1974, lot 551
Blum Helman Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above by the late owner
New York, Sidney Janis Gallery, An Exhibition of Recent Paintings by Ellsworth Kelly, April-May 1965, no. 16.
Monaco, Grimaldi Forum, New York, New York: Fifty Years of Art, Architecture, Photography, Film and Video, July-September 2006, no. 539.

Brought to you by

Emily Kaplan
Emily Kaplan Senior Vice President, Senior Specialist, Co-Head of 20th Century Evening Sale

Lot Essay

Ellsworth Kelly, one of the most consistently innovative painters of his generation, left an indelible mark on art history with his perennial investigations of form, color, line, emotion, and the canvas itself. His Blue Red-Orange, a large-scale painting measuring nearly six feet square and executed in 1964-65, is an exemplary example of his generous and rigorous ability to draw forth feeling and human connectivity from abstract forms. In Blue Red-Orange, completing fields of vibrant color create an inherent sense of drama, one that pushes the chromatic power of color to its very limits.

In the present work, blue—a historically significant color due to its association with a number of important artists including Giotto, Claude Monet and Yves Klein—expands to almost fill the canvas. It is a color with which the artist had considerable engagement, using it many times throughout his oeuvre in various hues ranging from darker, almost purplish blues, to the warmer, more inviting blue of the present work. Red, also has a presence all its own that cannot be ignored. It is the rusty hues of Christ’s blood in Renaissance paintings, the evocative otherworldly reds of Joan Miró, and the wild, earthy colors of Claude Monet’s late work, a key inspiration for Kelly. In Blue Red-Orange, the artist inserted the red into the composition in a way that makes its presence felt. This interplay between the two creates a sculpture in relief of two mutually supportive colors and forms. The red pigment is not tentative, but the opposite, boldly expanding to find its own place within the scene.

Kelly’s work from this period renews and expands on what was possible for painting as the artist moved seamlessly between Color Field painting, hard-edge abstraction, and Minimalism. Blue Red-Orange is an important example of these shifts as Kelly’s shapes became looser, more embodied, less predictable, and less concerned with established convention. The artist has famously said: “I think that if you can turn off the mind and look only with the eyes, ultimately everything becomes abstract” (E. Kelly, quoted in Ellsworth Kelly, exh. cat., Solomon R. Guggenheim, 1996, p. 40). Reflective of this belief, his paintings are distilled, purified and concretized abstractions of nature rooted in places and things seen and to the point where, as paintings, they function solely through a conjunction of form, scale, shape and flat monochrome color each combining to transmit a specific but indefinable aura or presence.

Functioning on the borderlines between painting and sculpture, his works are essentially indefinable objects because they simultaneously assert themselves as both tangible, physical entities of a certain scale and dimension and, at the same time, as vibrant but wholly immaterial colorful presences - ones that articulate, energize and interact in a unique and fascinating way with the blank empty space of the walls on which they are set. “Instead of making a picture that was an interpretation of a thing seen, or a picture of invented content” Kelly once noted to himself, his aim with his pictures was to find an object and “present” it as itself, autonomous and alone. They were to be “objects, unsigned, anonymous” (E. Kelly, ‘Notes from 1969,’ ibid., p. 63)

Blue Red-Orange, is indicative of Kelly’s interdisciplinary life and career. After serving in the military, Kelly studied at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston on the G.I. Bill, and soon he was inspired to study in France. There, he did not go to many of his classes, and instead lived an artist’s life and made foundational connections. He heard Max Beckmann lecture on Paul Cézanne and, in 1950, met Hans Arp, whose inquiries into chance, shape, and color would become central to Kelly’s career. He also got to know Constantin Brancusi, whose distillation of forms can be seen in Blue Red-Orange, as well as John Cage and Merce Cunningham, who undoubtedly inspired Kelly to see the canvas as a site of previously unconsidered ways of movement and interaction with the viewer.

On meeting Brancusi, Kelly stated, “He showed me a piece of wood. And when he had it by his bed when he was sick, it sprouted a little sprig with some leaves. And he called that a miracle. And so that's why he told me—he gave me advice and said, ‘Go get a piece of wood and contemplate it’” (E. Kelly, “Artists’ Perspectives: Ellsworth Kelly on Bird in Space, by Constantin Brancusi,” Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2012). And contemplate it he did by thinking not only about the art historical possibilities of natural and bodily forms, but also about closeness, nearness, and care. We might then see the blue and red-orange of this arresting canvas as collaborators, friends, and sources of comfort. Blue Red-Orange thus becomes a record not only of the relationship between loving and surprising colors and forms, but also of Kelly’s own intersections with artists and art histories that he used as fertile grounds for new ideas. Blue Red-Orange, so concerned with the margins, is in fact central to Kelly’s history and the emotional forces apparent in his work. Blue Red-Orange is a happening, a performance, that shows us that no artist, painting, or viewer can be described in dry opposites. There are always shades and unexpected twists and turns.

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