After WWII, Ellsworth Kelly studied art in France. In 1953 he painted Spectrum I. Unlike a rainbow the painting begins and ends with the same shade of yellow. The intervening sweep from green to golden orange makes it difficult to tell that the two yellows are, in fact, the same.
After being abroad for six years, Kelly had sold only one painting and he returned to America in 1954. In France, he had felt so American. But at home, he felt, if not European exactly, then certainly out on his own. He said “In Europe at the beginning of the 20th century, the Fauves – Matisse, Derain – were using bright colors in their full intensity, which continued with Kandinsky, Malevich, Kirchner, Léger and Mondrian. They employed all the colors of the spectrum. In the 1940s and 1950s the majority of the Abstract Expressionists in New York rebelled against this European use of color and mostly used mixed colors. (…). My idea of using color at its full intensity, which began with Colors for a Large Wall, hasn’t changed in the 60 years that I’ve been painting.”
The French Surrealist artist Jean Arp was among his friends in Paris. His comment refers to the series of collages titled Spectrum Colors Arranged by Chance I to VIII. In his first year in NYC, he was able to pay his rent only thanks to a loan from his friend, the sculptor Alexander Calder. He was neighbor of his friend the artist Jack Youngerman.
Sources: San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
Ellsworth Kelly: ‘I want to live another 15 years’, The Guardian, November 8 2015
Sixty Years at Full Intensity, Interview by Christoph Grunenberg
Remembering Abstract Pioneer, Jack Youngerman, 1926–2020. MoMA
Ellsworth European Colors, 2021, Acrylic on canvas, 40" x 30" (102 x 76 cm)