Kelly's Black White, 1988 is a superb example of his restrained elegance and acute sense of proportion. Central to Kelly's work - and especially evident in Black White--is a vigorous self-constraint. He allows himself a limited palette and two geometric shapes to evoke this monumental composition of striking proportion, activated by the tension between two planes. Here Kelly investigates the possibilities of pictorial space, spatial breadth, and the space outside of the composition and the engagement of the viewer. One can only fully appreciate the composition by considering its context on the wall and in the room. Art historically, figure-ground relationships existed strictly within the pictorial space. But Kelly has expanded that notion to include real space. Now, Black White itself is the figure. And the wall on which it hangs, the room we share with it, and the space between us becomes the ground.
In this expansive context, Black White suddenly evokes myriad references. A building and its shadow, the roof of a barn, sun through a windowpane, a glimpse of a mountainside, a skyline, even the space between things. Kelly edits what he sees and intuits the forms around him - natural or architectural - that he distills to their essence. He has been forthcoming in describing his sources:
"All art since the Renaissance seemed too man-oriented. I liked the object quality. An Egyptian pyramid, a Sung vase, a Romanesque church appealed to me. The forms found in the vaulting of a cathedral or even the splatter of tar on the road seemed more valid and instructive and a more voluptuous experience than either geometric or action painting." (Ellsworth Kelly as quoted in Ellsworth Kelly: Works on Paper, 1987, p.9).
Ellsworth Kelly, Hangar Doorway, Saint Barts, 1977, private collection