What shapes do you see in this painting?
NARRATOR: An abstract field of intense red is surrounded by brilliant white in this 1962 painting by Ellsworth Kelly. Notice how the combination generates a striking visual sensation. Simply titled Red White, the painting deals with the artist’s defining interests in purity, balance, and, of course, color.
GARRELS: The essence of color is very fundamental for Kelly. Particularly the primaries: red, blue, and yellow.
NARRATOR: Gary Garrels, curator at the museum.
GARRELS: Colors are always a product of light, and here he’s taking color and giving it a true material presence in the world. In a way, I think Kelly’s work is probably the purest presentation of color of any painter. Kelly was in the army and was assigned to paint camouflage. He learned a lot about color and shape and pattern from his work in the army, about negative space versus positive space, about outline and tonal relationships.
Kelly’s work is very rooted in looking at the real world and then trying to determine the most essential vision. But they’re not abstract in the sense that they’re created completely out of his imagination. They’re not created out of an intellectual system. They’re really created out of a very keen sense of observation, and then distilling that through study in the studio.
Please note that artwork locations are subject to change, and not all works are on view at all times. If you are planning a visit to SFMOMA to see a specific work of art, we suggest you contact us at email@example.com to confirm it will be on view.
Only a portion of SFMOMA's collection is currently online, and the information presented here is subject to revision. Please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to verify collection holdings and artwork information. If you are interested in receiving a high resolution image of an artwork for educational, scholarly, or publication purposes, please contact us at email@example.com.