He lives and works in Spencertown, New York
1923: Was born in Newburgh, New York
American painter, sculptor and printmaker. He was one of the major practitioners of abstract art in the USA after World War II; as early as the 1950s he developed an individual approach that influenced the course of Minimal art, colour field painting, hard-edge painting and Post-painterly Abstraction without becoming fully a part of any of these movements. He was encouraged at high school by a sympathetic art teacher, although his parents were reluctant for him to be an artist and agreed to support only his training in the technical arts, which he pursued at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York (1941–2). In 1943 he was inducted in the US Army where, at his request, he was assigned to the camouflage unit. In 1944 he travelled to Europe, where a short stay in Paris inspired him to return to France at the end of the decade. Following his military discharge (1945), he studied at the Boston Museum of the Fine Arts School (1946–7). With the support of a US education grant on the G.I. Bill, he returned in 1948 to Paris, using it as a European base for six years. During this period he made a trip to Colmar to see Matthias Grünewald’s Isenheim Altarpiece; the construction of his later painting may have been prompted in part by its multi-panel format.
In 1954 Kelly moved back to the USA in the belief that Abstract Expressionism was not so dominant as to preclude an acceptance of his art. He moved into a loft in Manhattan within a community of artists that included Agnes Martin, James Rosenquist and Kelly’s colleague from Paris, Jack Youngerman (b 1926). He progressed from wood relief panels to large painted canvases such as Atlantic (1956; New York, Whitney), which juxtaposed blocks of single, flat colours with silhouetted shapes, abstracted from organic forms.
In 1970 Kelly left the city to live in upstate New York. Having gone through a period of rectilinear geometry in his painting, he began again to employ curves in two-colour paintings made of separate panels and in sculptures in a subtle homage to his new pastoral surroundings, for example Blue Curve III (oil on canvas, 1972; Los Angeles, CA, County Mus. A.). In another response to his new environment, in 1973 Kelly began regularly making large-scale outdoor sculpture, often in totem-like configurations such as Curve XXIII (stainless steel, 1981; New Haven, CT, Yale U. A.G.). He used steel, aluminium, stainless steel and in the 1980s, bronze. In these he was not concerned with colour, except for that of the material itself in order to stress shape and give the pieces consistency and easier maintenance. From 1964 he produced prints and editioned sculptures at Gemini G.E.L. in Los Angeles and Tyler Graphics Ltd near New York City. Drawings and works on paper, particularly figure and numerous plant drawings, consistently partnered painting and sculpture in his productive career.