I Challenge You to a Kelly Haiku

Even as a museum educator and art historian, I struggle sometimes with understanding abstract works of art. A lack of subject matter, figures, and rational forms can be intimidating and at times even overwhelming. So, recently I challenged myself during my noon Spotlight Talk to discuss some of the most abstract works on view at the Phillips right now in Ellsworth Kelly: Panel Paintings 2004–2009.  I was inspired by a quote of Kelly’s: “Time is important in art, and sometimes art takes time to reveal itself.” I figured if I took time to engage with works I hardly understood, perhaps they would reveal themselves to me.

I posed this challenge to my tour group and they obliged by looking closely, sharing their observations, and finally drafting a haiku based on their favorite painting in the exhibition. Haiku are a traditional Japanese 17 syllable poem. Our haiku used the following format and Post-It notes to create simple yet powerful explanations of Kelly’s works.

Ellsworth Kelly,Yellow Relief over Red, 2004. Private collection. Photo: Jerry L. Thompson, courtesy the artist. © Ellsworth Kelly

Title: One word describing the mood
Line 1: 5 syllables describing the color
Line 2: 7 syllables describing the shape
Line 3: 5 syllables describing the lines

Here are some of our haiku’s.

Electric yellow
Those rectangles overlap
Tight and neat, so crisp
By: Margaret Collerd


It’s orange or red
Is it rectangle or square?
connected as one
By: Amy Truong


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

Red black blue green train
Squared rectangles even
Horizons kiltered
By: Anonymous


Strong purple and white
Oblong with a subtle curve
That should be a line
By: Marvin


Movement to the right
Rectangle on rectangle
Angles on angles
By: Karen


Interested in writing your own Kelly inspired haiku? Join us Thursday, Sept. 5 at Kelly’s Colors Phillips after 5 and create your own Post-It poetry to share or tweet your haiku as a tweetku and tag it #tweetku and #kellyscolors!

Margaret Collerd, Public Programs and In-Gallery Interpretation Coordinator

Separated at Birth?


Left: A detail of El Greco’s Laocoon, on view at the National Gallery of Art.
Right: El Greco’s The Repentant St. Peter, currently on view at the Phillips.

Phillips educators saw a familiar face during a field trip to the National Gallery of Art on Monday. Check out the uncanny resemblance between the title figure in the  Gallery’s Laocoön (c. 1610/1614) and the Phillips’s The Repentant St. Peter (between 1600 and 1614), both by El Greco.

It was a very timely happenstance considering the Intersections project A Conjunction of Verb opening tomorrow at the Phillips, in which Baltimore-based artist Bernhard Hildebrandt reinterprets El Greco’s work in photography and video.

Are there more St. Peter lookalikes out there?

Natalie Mann, School, Outreach, and Family Programs Coordinator