Vale Ellsworth Kelly

I’m a bit behind the news, but I learned today that Ellsworth Kelly had died on 27 December 2015. I have posted previously about his shadow drawings and I find that there is still much to explore in his lifetime of work.

One quote from the New York Times Obituary that struck a chord with me was about ‘finding’ his art in his surroundings:

I realized I didn’t want to compose pictures, I wanted to find them. I felt that my vision was choosing things out there in the world and presenting them. To me the investigation of perception was of the greatest interest. There was so much to see, and it all looked fantastic to me.

Drawing Cut into Strips and Rearranged by Chance (detail) ArtistEllsworth Kelly Date 1950 Dimensions sheet 16.5 × 77.25 × inches Materials ink on paper, collage

Drawing Shadows

“While riding the bus, I noticed that the shadows of the window frames falling across my book changed as the bus moved. With my use of drawing by chance I quickly marked many pages with outlines of the changing shadows. Later in my studio I inked in the drawings in the sketchbook, several of which I developed into paintings.” (Ellsworth Kelly writing about his sketchbook 23, 1954, (Drawings on a Bus), 9 October 2006).

The theme ‘shadows’ and this passage in particular, was used as starting points for the latest design excercise for the textile group I belong to. From our subsequent discussion it was clear that we all discovered that drawing shadows was a more complex process than  Kelly’s work implied.

We all tried the obvious, putting a sheet of paper down and tracing the shadow thrown on the page. We observed that shadows weren’t always uniformly dark, or uniform in strength, or one colour (gosh those Impressionists were right after all). Often they didn’t stay still for long.


ink on paper of shadows in my house

After a frustrating time down the coast trying to trace shadows in the face of a stiff sea breeze I found that photogrphing the shadows falling on the page was far more effective.


a page of shadow photographs

In the end the strength of Kelly’s work really spoke to me so I made a very literal translation of a number of his drawings with ink onto three pieces of cotton, placed on top of each other. The fabric was cut to the same height as his book (which is obtainable in facsimile), although I left the full length of the fabric as it came.

I wanted to take this a bit further, so I cut some of the top layer of the fabric and wove it into a small tapestry. I had hoped that the ink ‘shadows’ might make patterns that were more obviously related to the original drawings, but it wasn’t the case. I subsequently tried weaving one of Kelly’s drawings into the tapestry.


small tapestry made from torn fabric

I then re-inked what I had left of the fabric, over the original drawing. Kelly’s images still remain strong.


re-inked drawing on cotton

This idea is still very unresolved for me. I have two more pieces of fabric to play with.


image from the facsimile edition of one of Ellsworth Kelly’s Drawings on a Bus, 1954.