The Power of Design Through the Lens of Ellsworth Kelly


Ellsworth Kelly, Red Relief, 2009. Private collection. Photo: Jerry L. Thompson, courtesy the artist. © Ellsworth Kelly.

As an educator, I find lessons of modern-day simplicity to be a great starting point for fine arts students. The field of design revolves around how art interacts with the tasks and perceptions of everyday life. Design isn’t just aesthetically pleasing; it also serves an everyday purpose. I believe art should be people-focused and design should serve as a platform for which dialogue and discussion is facilitated. Perceptions of light, color, and space aid in constructing a design and in developing visual literacy. In addition to written/verbal literacy, I think visual literacy is an integral skill one should possess.

The work of Ellsworth Kelly, currently on view in the Panel Paintings 2004-2009  is interesting to consider in relation to the subject of design and human interaction. Kelly, whose works I see as brushing between minimalism and post-painterly abstraction, has a clear and calibrated eye for design. Having formerly been a graphic designer, and currently an art educator, I see elements of two-dimensional and three-dimensional design as imperative when understanding Kelly’s artistic process. Design in itself best communicates with the viewer when clarity is achieved, an element Kelly has mastered. Formations of line, symmetry, and composition aid in developing a clear message within his pieces–these messages, however simple in design, evoke a tapestry of complexity within their meaning and interpretation.

It is this eye for simplicity in design that I hope future learners adapt and refer to throughout their art making process. Artistic intelligence lies in being able to condense such rich information into its purest, simplest form–to capture it, and still be able to communicate it to the audience.

Who are some other artists you believe share Kelly’s approach to aesthetic simplicity?

Is visual literacy an important skill for all learners to possess, not solely art students?


Fatima Elgarch, K12 Education Intern

Artists in Italy: Maurice Prendergast and John Graham

New installation of works inspired by Italy in Gallery C. Photo: Joshua Navarro.

New installation of works inspired by Italy in an upstairs gallery in the house. Photo: Joshua Navarro.

From the ancient Romans to the Renaissance, Italy has attracted and inspired artists from around the world for centuries. Many considered their artistic training incomplete without a trip to study from the great masters and to record the beautiful surrounding landscapes of Italy. The styles of art created and employed were just as diverse as the nationalities of the artists that Italy inspired. In a new permanent collection installation in the house, artists both Italian and foreign from the late 19th to the mid-20th century use the common thread of Italian inspiration to interpret landscapes and still life themes that reflect their unique visual vocabulary. This week, I will explore the foreign artists attracted to the beauty of Italy that are represented in the gallery.

Maurice Prendergast, Pincian Hill, Rome, 1898. Watercolor over graphite pencil underdrawing on thick, medium-textured, off-white watercolor paper, 21 x 27 in. (53.34 x 68.58 cm). The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C., Acquired 1920.

Maurice Prendergast, Pincian Hill, Rome, 1898. Watercolor over graphite pencil underdrawing on thick, medium-textured, off-white watercolor paper, 21 x 27 in. (53.3 x 68.6 cm). The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C., Acquired 1920.

Maurice Prendergast and John D. Graham were two such examples of painters drawn to Italy for its beautiful landscapes. Prendergast, an American born in Newfoundland in 1858 and raised in Boston, studied painting in Britain and Paris before making his grand tour through Italy. In 1898, he traveled to Florence, Siena, Rome, Capri, and Venice, taking in the sights and colors. Pincian Hill, Rome (1898), created on this trip and shown above, shows a street view of Rome depicting not only Italian scenery, but also daily life.

Graham  similarly came upon his Italian source of inspiration by way of travel. Born in Ukraine in 1886, Graham escaped Bolshevik imprisonment and immigrated to the United States in 1920. After moving to America, he visited Asia, Africa, and Western Europe. His works Mountain Village (1927), seen below,  and Palermo (1928) depict beautiful Italian landscapes defined by vivid colors and geometric forms.

Tomorrow, I’ll discuss works by Joseph Stella and Giorgio De Chirico.

Drew Lash, Curatorial Intern

John Graham, Mountain Village, 1927. Oil on canvas, 16 x 20 in. (40.6 x 50.8 cm). The Phillips Collection, Washington ,D.C., Acquired by 1929, possibly 1927.

John Graham, Mountain Village, 1927. Oil on canvas, 16 x 20 in. (40.6 x 50.8 cm). The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C., Acquired by 1929, possibly 1927.


Controlled Disorganization: Ellsworth Kelly at the Barnes

sculpture for a large wall by Ellsworth Kelly

Ellsworth Kelly (American, b. 1923). Sculpture for a Large Wall, 1956–1957. Anodized aluminum, 104 panels, 136 x 782 1/2 x 12 in. (345.4 x 1987.6 x 30.5 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York, gift of Jo Carole and Ronald S. Lauder, 1998. © Ellsworth Kelly. Image: © 2013 The Barnes Foundation

Earlier this month, my family and I decided to go on a little getaway to Philadelphia specifically to see the newly revamped Barnes Foundation. The Barnes is one of several major art galleries like MoMA, Detroit Institute of the Arts, the National Gallery of Art and The Phillips Collection celebrating Ellsworth Kelly’s 90th birthday by hosting exhibitions of his work.

Having spent many a lunch break exploring the Phillips’s Kelly exhibition (one of the main perks of being an intern in an art museum) I was definitely interested in seeing the Barnes’s exhibition as a means of comparison. The combination of the two shows, and the differences between them, gave me a unique perspective on an artist whose work I was mostly unfamiliar with until recently.

Walking into the exhibition at the Barnes, the first piece you see is Sculpture for a Large Wall, and this was my favorite piece in the exhibit. The sculpture is massive, taking up the entire back wall of the gallery space, and is composed of 104 aluminum panels colored red, yellow, blue, and black. These panels are lined up in various positions along four rows. One of the reasons why this was undeniably my favorite piece in the show was because of its sense of chaos and mayhem, which juxtaposes the serenity and calmness of the other pieces. The panels are not neatly lined up, but rather pointed in every direction, making it feel like a controlled disorganization, which contrasts to the element of perfection seen in his other pieces. Seeing this piece side by side with his other work gave me perspective on the breadth of his work and his unmistakable style.

And, because I always like to end my posts with an interesting tidbit, this was the first time since 1998 that Sculpture for a Large Wall was shown in Philadelphia. The work was commissioned by the Philadelphia Transportation Building in 1957 where it hung until renovations forced its removal in 1998.

Hannah Hoffman, Marketing Intern