A maverick of postwar American art, Ellsworth Kelly has made some of the most recognizable images in our country’s history, from his canvases of pure vibrant color to his hard-edge abstractions. He is hands-down of the most important living American artists today. So it makes sense that his massive new catalogue raisonné is being written by Kelly scholar Yves Alain Bois, one of the most accomplished art critics of our era.
This fall, the venerated French publishing house Cahiers D’Art released Catalogue Raisonné of Paintings, Reliefs, and Sculpture, Volume One, 1940-1953 (2015), the first of six volumes documenting Kelly’s entire oeuvre.
Covering the formative first 13 years of Kelly’s long and distinguished career, the 383-page book includes more than 400 color illustrations and crucial biographical details. Kelly and Alain Bois worked together to eloquently trace the artist’s development of his own voice, outlining his evolution from art student to pioneering young artist, up to his return to the U.S. from France in 1954.
As the tome explains, Kelly really came into his own while living in Paris. While serving in France in the U.S. Army during WWII, he fell under the city’s spell and decided to complete his studies there shortly after the war ended. “After arriving in Paris in 1948, I realized that figurative painting and also abstract painting […] as I had known it in the 20th century no longer interested me as a solution to my own problems,” the artist wrote in 1969. “The forms found in the vaulting of a cathedral or even a splatter of tar on the road seemed more valid and instructive and a more voluptuous experience […]. Instead of making a picture that was an interpretation of a thing seen, or a picture of invented content, I found an object and ‘presented’ it as itself alone.”
Out of these early realizations came the spare, vividly colored abstract compositions that have defined the artist’s career and influenced generations of artists and art movements, from Minimalism to Pop Art. Now, with the publication of this new catalogue raisonné, Kelly’s legacy will be definitively preserved for further generations of artists—and anyone else who wishes to tap into the totality of his masterful vision.