Ellsworth Kelly may be best known for his rigorous abstract painting. However, Kelly has made figurative drawings throughout his career, and has created an extraordinary body of work that now spans six decades. Ellsworth Kelly Plant Drawings-at The Metropolitan Museum of Art from June 5 through September 3, 2012-will be the first major museum exhibition dedicated exclusively to the artist's drawings of plants, flowers, and leaves. The selection of approximately 75 drawings begins in 1948 during Kelly's early sojourn in Paris and continues throughout his travels to his most recent work made in upstate New York. The exhibition will include loans from major public and private collections.
Ranging from seaweed suspended in his studio, to a flower discovered on the road side, to a single banana leaf examined at close range, Kelly's renderings of plants-he likens them to portraits-are precisely observed studies of forms in nature. They are also steeped in memory and personal experience. "The most pleasurable thing in the world, for me," the artist once said, "is to see something, and then to translate how I see it." Although Kelly occasionally introduces brushed color in his exquisite depictions of blossoms, leaves, or fruit, he generally favors contour drawing in graphite or ink.
The exhibition is made possible in part by the Gail and Parker Gilbert Fund and the Jane and Robert Carroll Fund.
The first exhibition of Ellsworth Kelly's plant drawings was at the Metropolitan Museum, in 1969, when Henry Geldzahler, then Curator of Contemporary Art, included 30 examples in the historic exhibition New York Painting and Sculpture: 1940-1970. In addition to the works on paper, Geldzahler, working closely with the artist, installed a group of 12 paintings and sculptures in a separate gallery. For the first time, these figurative images could be seen in the context of Kelly's abstract work. Since then, the plant drawings have been appreciated in numerous exhibitions and publications.