Magazine article Artforum International

Ellsworth Kelly

Magazine article Artforum International

Ellsworth Kelly

Article excerpt

Piet Mondrian painted flowers; Ellsworth Kelly draws plants--has done so regularly since the late '40s. The selection of "Plant Drawings" in this show included works from 1960-69, and from 1980 to the present; apparently Kelly did fewer of these in the '70s. There is little sense of development over time in these works, which only adds to their air of objectivity, to the feeling that they are exercises in something other than style. What draws "absolute" abstractionists to the botanical? When Kelly says, "I found an object and 'presented' it as itself alone. . . . It had to be exactly as it was, with nothing added," one senses that plant life's lack of resistance echoes his own will to passivity before the object. More pointedly, what these representational works in black and white share with Kelly's more famous paintings--nonobjective despite their origins in things seen, and so often about voluptuous color--is a privileging of the edge, whether of the canvas or of the lines that delineate a form.

Although Kelly's line here is sensitive, never at all mechanical, it is also clear that he strives to maintain a certain forceful evenness of touch. There's hardly any differentiation of tone beyond the sheer contrast of white and black, and where there is, it usually weakens the drawing--just clear, tensile, elastic lines enclosing distinct forms. There are telling variations in thickness and pressure, but always within a pretty narrow range of difference, though the results can be quite dramatic. …

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