Red Blue Green is a pristine example from one of Ellsworth Kelly's most critically acclaimed series of the same title which he completed between 1958 and 1965. It embodies the key elements of Kelly's art: color, line, and form. Red Blue Green uses abstract means to explore the essence of representational painting; the balance between foreground and background. Painted in bold primary colors, the blue and red half-ovals are spectacularly set off by the rich green ground, creating a compositional tour de force that transcends the simplicity of its elements.
The initial inspiration for Kelly's abstraction and unadulterated color began on Halloween night in 1935 in rural Oradelli, New Jersey. Kelly was twelve years-old and trick-or-treating with his friends in his neighborhood after dark. Upon approaching a particular house from a distance, Kelly recalls, "I saw three colored shapes-red, black, and blue-in a ground floor window. It confused me and I thought, 'What is that?' When I got close to the window, it was too high to look in easily and I didn't want to be peeking. I was very curious and came at the window obliquely and chinned myself up, only to look into a normal furnished living room. When I backed off to a distance, there it was again. I now realize that this was probably my first abstract vision-something like the three shapes in [my] Red Blue Green painting" (Ellsworth Kelly quoted in H. Davis, Ellsworth Kelly: Red Green Blue, exh. cat., Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, 2003, p. 7). As Kelly further explained, the image he saw that night was a combination of the room's furnishings: a red drape in the foreground, a fireplace in the background and a blue couch placed in the middle. From a certain distance and angle, these simplified objects were transformed into a unique union of flattened, colored shapes. Kelly never returned to trick-or-treating that night. Instead, he contemplated his visual breakthrough.
The beauty of this memory strikes at the heart of Kelly's artistic vocabulary. Simple color and line are extracted from the real world. Red Blue Green is an elegant and powerful work that illuminates Kelly's ability to distill the essence of the visual world without forfeiting the varied complexity and richness of our visual environments.