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The case for Ellsworth Kelly

June 3, 2019 10:05 pm

The Hudson Valley can welcome another luminary into a gallery of famous artists.

Ellsworth Kelly of Spencertown was inducted posthumously Friday in what is the closest thing we have to a Hall of Fame for local artists.

Kelly took his rightful place among a highly select group that includes Thomas Cole of Catskill and Frederic Church of Hudson, and American new-wave stylists Georgia O’Keefe and Andy Warhol, whose pop-art simplicity draws on Kelly’s techniques.

Kelly’s work hasn’t been as celebrated in recent years as the paintings of Cole and Church, nor does he possess a castle on a hill or an estate with a splendid view of the Hudson River.

Kelly’s Spencertown studio is austere by comparison. In photos, it resembles a Soho loft, except its walls are blanketed by canvases splattered with paints of all hues, as if the artist were experimenting with various forms and colors and then, dissatisfied with the results, rejecting them.

Confounding the experts with his vivid, near-minimalist technique, Kelly was viewed as too European for American artists and too American for European artists. As it turns out, Kelly was a revolutionary figure in the world of abstract art.

A painter with an eye for bold and bright colors, Kelly lived in his studio in Spencertown for four decades. His work is featured in modern art museums around the globe from Paris to Houston and Boston to Berlin.

Kelly, who died in 2015 at the age of 92, somehow didn’t share in the fame bestowed on Cole and Church. He is not an alumnus of the Hudson River landscape school. But his work, on display in the world’s legendary art galleries, is clear proof that he stands alongside Church and Cole as one of this area’s master painters.