Ellsworth Kelly Didn't Expect the World to Love His Art

Ellsworth Kelly started out painting WWII tanks
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 28, 2015 5:28 AM CST
Ellsworth Kelly looks up during an interview before a ceremony marking the installation of his sculpture entitled "The Barnes Totem" in Philadelphia on April 10, 2012.   (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
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(Newser) – Ellsworth Kelly, widely seen as one of the greatest artists America has ever produced, has died at his home in upstate New York after 70 years of creating his own style of abstract art. He was 92. Kelly started out in an artistic US Army unit in France during World War II, designing camouflage patterns and creating fake tanks to deceive the Germans about the size of Allied forces, NPR reports. After the war, he returned to Paris to study art under the GI Bill, creating what Vulture calls a "uniquely American study of abstraction, form, and color" despite his distance from US contemporaries. In the '50s, he returned to New York, where art historian Sarah Rich tells NPR he was put off by the "corny expressionism and epic self-importance" of other leading abstract painters.

Kelly told the New York Times in 1996 that he started out painting things like patterns seen on sidewalk grates before moving to purely abstract paintings. "I wondered, 'Can I make a painting with just five panels of color in a row?'" he said. "I loved it, but I didn't think the world would. They'd think, 'It's not enough.'" His reputation grew over the decades as his style continued to evolve, and his paintings and sculptures can now be found in almost every major museum of modern art, NPR notes. He also created many public installations over the years, including a stirring installation at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. (This year, we also lost a beloved fantasy author and an opera singer nicknamed "God's tenor.")

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