Ellsworth Kelly has developed a new interest—astronomy. Long-time friend Sidney Felsen purchased a telescope and presented it to the artist for his 84th birthday, celebrated at his home in Spencertown, New York. Perhaps that’s what separates artists from the rest of us—a curiosity that continues to inspire, a willingness to explore, and a capacity to learn that doesn’t diminish with age. Kelly’s recent projects, created at Gemini G.E.L. in Los Angeles and known collectively as The Rivers, are the lithographic embodiment of this inquisitiveness. An idea that began in the 1950s was rekindled by 4×6” postcards and translated to 11 related but distinct works—ranging from wall sculptures to 1-color lithographs—that will be shown as the entire series for the first time at Gemini GEL at Joni Moisant Weyl.
Known primarily for his crisp abstract shapes and also for beautifully drawn plant images, The Rivers focus on Kelly’s interest in “chance,” in movement and in latent kinetic energy. Printed in varying shades of black the lithographs look cunningly photographic—like a fast-flowing current at night. The first work to be created, The River, is an elegant wall sculpture measuring 40×109” constructed by mounting a 12-color lithograph onto an aluminum panel which installs directly, unframed, onto the wall. The River (State) is the same image but mounted on Sintra and framed traditionally, and it is these two works that serve as the foundation for the subsequent works in this series.
Kelly realized that the individual images from the lithographic plates creating The River were compelling in and of themselves, and he decided to explore making individual prints. The eight States of the River are 1- color lithographs that measure 45×32” and each bears the title of a significant river. Furthermore, during the editioning process, the printers at Gemini shipped two proofs of the The River to Kelly, each printed ondifferent paper, so that he could choose the paper he preferred. The proofs were displayed in Kelly’s studio stacked one over another, identical in imagery except for the left portion of the image which had erroneously been inverted. Recognizing that this fortuitous configuration had an undeniable presence, River II was born, fabricated as a substantial wall relief comprised of two lithographs mounted on two conjoined aluminum panels that ultimately combine to an overall dimension of 80×109”.
Although several preeminent private and museum collections have acquired work from this important series, The Rivers have never before been exhibited as a cohesive project, and this exhibition provides the first opportunity to view this significant body of Kelly’s work in its entirety. An essay by art historian and critic Dave Hickey, to be published in a forthcoming book documenting Gemini G.E.L.’s 40th Anniversary, accompanies the exhibition.