I just discovered Karen Wright’s short article in the July issue of Vanity Fair about Ellsworth Kelly and his studio practice. I knew he needed oxygen tanks, but apparently, at 89-years-old, he has a lung condition caused by inhaling studio fumes. Also, unlike most other painters I know, Kelly likes to paint in silence (I do, too).
“I did not want windows, only skylights,” he says. “I chose my painting wall as it has the best morning light.” Serried rows of paintbrushes and white, gesso-treated canvases stand alongside strategically placed oxygen tanks: Kelly has recently been placed on permanent treatment for a lung condition possibly caused by breathing in the chemicals associated with painting. He is not allowing the regime to slow him down, continuing to work every day, although he now needs to use a mask while working. This undiminished appetite for work is reflected in his current architectural projects and monumental sculptures, two of his abiding interests. He eschews music in the studio, saying, “I like silence.” Here is an artist in search of the truth in the essential. There is no self-doubt visible in the work, even if there is occasionally in the artist, whose parting words today are “I always think that I can’t do it—my shoulder hurts or I’m tired … but I can.”
Kelly has a powerful show at The Metropolitan Museum through September 3 that includes nearly eighty carefully observed plant drawings made from 1948 through the present. “The most pleasurable thing in the world for me,” Kelly says, “is to see something, and then to translate how I see it.” Check out these images from the show, and then go draw from life for a couple hours. You won’t regret it.
© Ellsworth Kelly. Photograph Courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Ellsworth Kelly, Seaweed, 1949, watercolor, gouache, and ink on paper, 22 x 17 inches, private collection, © Ellsworth Kelly. Photograph Courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art
The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Gift of The Brown Foundation, Inc., © Ellsworth Kelly. Photograph Courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art
“Ellsworth Kelly Plant Drawings,” curated by Marla Prather. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY. Through September 3, 2012.
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Tags: Portrait of the day