Snap happy: Ellsworth Kelly’s inaugural photographic showing, in New York

Snap happy: Ellsworth Kelly’s inaugural photographic showing, in New York

When it comes to a mastery of colour, line and form, few compare to Ellsworth Kelly. Despite the artist’s body of work being spot-lit in more than 30 museums globally, there’s an unknown aspect of his oeuvre that goes beyond wielding a paint brush or taking up asculptor’s tools. This month, Matthew Marks Gallery in Chelsea is hosting ‘Ellsworth Kelly: Photographs’, the first exhibition of Kelly’s work in the discipline.

While the more than 30 gelatin silver prints on view date from 1950 to 1982, Kelly was completing the pieces involved in the exhibition until shortly before his death last year, at the age of 92.

Kelly began snapping pictures some 60 years ago when he first borrowed a Leica. In taking up a camera, Kelly commented that he was seeking to ‘make notations of things I had seen and subjects I had been drawing’; yet his images were never the basis for his paintings, drawings and sculpture.

The images here were largely shot in France and Spencertown in upstate New York (where he lived from 1970 until the end of his life). They include shots of barns and architectural details of windows and roofs, the shadows they cast with their interlocking forms evoking the planes and shapes of his iconic paintings and sculptures.

In a 1963 interview, Kelly revealed that his works up to that point had primarily been ‘paintings of things I’d seen, like a window, or a fragment of a piece of architecture, or someone’s legs; or sometimes the space between things, or just how the shadow of an object would look.’ He wasn’t interested, he explained, ’in the texture of the rock, or that it is a rock, but in the mass of it, and its shadow’.

His ethos, it transpired, was more existential – even transcendental. ‘You keep trying to freeze the world as if you could make it last forever... to get at the rapture of seeing.’

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