Ellsworth Kelly, a giant in American abstract art, dead at 92


SPENCERTOWN, N.Y. — Ellsworth Kelly, a painter, sculptor and printmaker whose work over seven decades made him one of America's leading abstract artists, has died. He was 92.

Kelly's Manhattan gallerist, Matthew Marks Gallery, said he died Sunday at his upstate New York home. Peter Wenk, the owner of a funeral home near Kelly's home studio in Spencertown, on Monday confirmed Kelly's death but couldn't provide any other details, such as the cause. In recent years, the artist had been suffering from lung ailments.

Born in Newburgh in New York's Hudson Valley in 1923, Kelly grew up in New Jersey and enrolled in art school in New York City in 1941. He left school during World War II, when he painted camouflage patterns on fake tanks and other military objects produced by a special Army unit to deceive the Germans. Among his comrades was Bill Blass, the future fashion designer.

Kelly moved to Paris after the war to study art. He returned to New York in the mid-1950s to begin creating the boldly colored geometric paintings that were exhibited in the Museum of Modern Art, as well as in museums and galleries across the United States and Europe.

During a 1970 trip to upstate New York to scout locations for another studio, he found a vacant second-floor space with 12-foot windows in a Victorian building in the village of Chatham. It was there he would create one of his signature works, "The Chatham Series," 14 L-shaped monochrome panels that were first displayed in 1972 at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo.

He later built a new studio on property a few miles away in Spencertown, near the Massachusetts border. He lived there with his longtime partner, Jack Shear, a photographer and collector.

Matthew Marks, who has sold and exhibited Kelly's work since the early 1990s, said the artist was still in demand and thus creating right up to the end, with various paintings and sculptures in the works.

"He was amazing," Marks told The Associated Press. "It's like he kept getting better and better."

[Kelly's work was the subject of a major exhibition, "Monet / Kelly," last winter — Nov. 23, 2014-Feb. 16, 2015 — at the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown.]

In July 2013, Kelly was one of 24 recipients of the National Medal of Arts bestowed during a White House ceremony with President Barack Obama.

[He is survived by his husband, photographer and collector Jack Shear, and a brother, David.]


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