Current Exhibition – Ellsworth Kelly: Plant Lithographs

Open June 6 – August 2

Susan Sheehan Gallery is pleased to present Ellsworth Kelly: Plant Lithographs, an exhibition highlighting the balance of abstraction and gestural expressionism of Ellsworth Kelly’s natural forms. A dedicated printmaker for almost his entire career, Kelly’s earliest serious foray into the medium was in Paris in the mid-1960s. European modernism had made an indelible impact on him long before as a young artist in the city in the ‘40s, inspired by the work of Joan Miró, Constantin Brancusi, and Jean Arp. When Kelly visited Paris again for an exhibition at the renowned Galerie Maeght in 1964, the gallery’s publishing arm helped him produce his first two bodies of prints including his Suite of Plant Lithographs.

Kelly’s plant drawings reflect his lifelong tendencies towards the natural world. Close observation of natural form was a key point of departure for Kelly, who was influenced from a young age by birdwatching and illustrations of birds. Throughout his career, his representations of plants were rendered in a variety of mediums, but he always preferred the simplicity and expressiveness of the single graphite line. He often chose references from these initial pencil studies to create prints, reworking the outlines on transfer paper. In these cases, Kelly was redrawing from his own drawings from direct observation. In other cases, such as Catalpa Leaf, the artist drew entirely from memory.  These monochrome studies of botanical subjects, distilled into their most pure, essential forms, provide an instinctive observation of the natural world. While the forms are abstracted from their other qualities, Kelly still notes their subtle idiosyncrasies with sparse, black contours, and records the inconsistencies of his own perception or memory.

Kelly often experimented with a single concept or image, transposing them between media. “His prints, no less than his paintings and sculptures, have their own distinctive voice,” the art historian Richard H. Axsom expressed. “While his paintings and sculptures assert their totemic presence and tangible physicality, his prints register equally important aspects of his vision: intimacy, delicacy, and ethereality. Varied in scale but consistent in their formal integrity, Kelly’s prints bear witness to his commitment to the phenomenal world.”  

The exhibition will be open through August 2, 2024.