Ellworth Kelly, born in 1923 in Newburgh, New York, is one of the most important representatives of so-called Hard-Edge painting. The Californian critic Jules Langsner introduced the term to designate a pictorial structure consisting of clearly distinguished, unmodulated fields of colour. With this, he differentiated Hard-Edge painting from the abstract expressionism of Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, or Barnett Newman, who, in the fifties, also developed a concept of painting in which the traditional distinction between figure and ground was suspended. Ellsworth Kelly had the same intention, but under the conditions of a different approach to painting. Both movements with the stringent simplicity of their pictorial concepts count as decisive forerunners of minimal art in the sixties. As opposed to his American contemporaries, who demanded a radical break with European art, Ellsworth Kelly came upon his pictorial language via an intensive investigation of the tradition of modernism.

Photos: Katrin Schilling

Kelly's early works from the post-war period - primarily figurative illustrations and urban views - show clear evidence of influence by Picasso's synthetic cubism. What triggered his abrupt turn towards a totally abstract pictorial language, however, was his encounter with works by such diverse artists as Henri Matisse and Sophie Taeuber-Arp, Constantin Brancusi and Claude Monet. In his preoccupation with these artists, Kelly developed his concept of painting with coloured forms, aiming at overcoming the distinction between figure and background.

On the basis of a limited repertoire of formal concepts and pictorial means, Ellsworth Kelly has since then created - independent of temporary fashions and movements - a highly complex work, in which painting and sculpture are of equal importance. The boundaries between these two genres are often torn down. Kelly frequently examines his pictorial formulas in work-series, constantly questioning and asserting his concept anew.

Kelly's pictorial shapes are oriented towards form as deduced from geometric structures which he perceives in visible reality. Abstraction, for Kelly, is a method of perception seeking to work out a form in a clear and simple way. These perceptions are fixed in drawings and often tested in collages in view of the picture or sculpture being created. Kelly's artistic process is not compositional, but leads to forms following the method of trial-and-error. Kelly also uses photography to fix and clarify a pictorial object, because the eye of the camera is more suitable than the human eye for concentrating forms and objects from their spatial context of meaning.

In this sense, he aims at sharpening the view of the aesthetic dimension of a form, using a precise mode of perception which excludes all extrinsic meaning to arrive at universal validity. The picture, therefore, does not contain or convey an object, but possesses in itself the quality of an object. The absolutely neutral utilisation of colour, without personal texture, emphasises this non-illusionary character of the picture as object.

For the exhibition, Ellsworth Kelly has conceived a spatial installation with a yellow form placed on the floor. "Yellow Curve-Portikus" creates a picture-object with a clearly-contoured inside and outside closure, aimed at the perceptual unity of form, floor-surface, and space.