Famous American painter Ellsworth Kelly is best known for his big, bright abstract paintings. What is not so well-known is that he has done figurative drawings of plants as well. New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art has a lovely exhibition of his Plant Drawings on show for the summer.
There are 80 drawings on exhibition, starting from the first ones done in Paris in 1948, right up to the present, done in Spencertown, (upstate) New York where he lives now.
There is a wide range of images, from sunflowers, to corn, to weeds at the side of the road to a single banana leaf, examined up close. According to the Financial Times, "he is choosy about his botanicals, preferring simple leaves with defined shapes, as in his elegant sketches of ginkgos and milkweed, and avoiding orchids, which he calls too baroque."
Kelly likens them to portraits because they are so carefully observed. “My drawings are kind of notations,” Kelly says, "I only want the line.” Although some are water colours, painted in a single colour; most are drawn in graphite or pen and ink.
He is influenced by his observations of the world around him:
shapes and colors found in plants, architecture, shadows on a wall or a lake—and his interest in the spaces between places and objects and between his work and its viewers. He has said, "In my work, I don't want you to look at the surface; I want you to look at the form, the relationships."His influences are Miro, Calder, Mondrian, and Matisse. So much so, that some plant drawings were shown alongside those of Henri Matisse, at the Centre Pompidou in Paris in 2002.
As for the indefatigable 90 year old's views on life: “Somebody asked me about heaven, and I said, ‘Heaven? Who needs it? I want 20 more years on the earth. That’s my heaven.”