Ellsworth Kelly is an American painter, sculptor and printmaker. As a high school student, he was encouraged by a sympathetic art teacher. Because his parents were reluctant for him to be an artist, they agreed to support only his training in the technical arts, which he pursued at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York (1941–42). In 1943 he was inducted into the U.S. Army, where, at his request, he was assigned to the camouflage unit. Following his military discharge (1945), he studied at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (1946–47). With the support of a U.S. education grant on the GI Bill, he returned in 1948 to Paris, using it as a European base for six years.
Evading critical attempts to classify him as a color field, hard-edge or minimalist painter, Kelly has redefined abstraction in art, establishing himself through his drawings, paintings, sculptures and prints as one of the most important and influential artists of the last 100 years. Kelly’s visual vocabulary is drawn from observation of the world around him — shapes and colors found in plants, architecture, shadows on a wall or a lake — and has been shaped by 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.”
Kelly has been the subject of major exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. His work is in many public collections, including those of Centre Pompidou (Paris), Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía (Madrid) and Tate Modern (London). Kelly lives and works in Spencertown, N.Y. Two of his paintings — Yellow Curves (1954) and Blue White (1962) — are part of the permanent collection of the Rose Art Museum at Brandeis. He received the Brandeis Creative Arts Award in 1963.
Honorary Degree Citation
As an artist, you cross genres and defy categorization. Your drawings, paintings, sculptures and prints have established you as one of the most influential artists of the last 100 years. Your reflection of form and relationships in your work is a shining example of how art should be integrated into spaces, places and the world around us. At Brandeis, we aspire to an education where every student is aware of the place of art in the world; your engagement with the world around you and profound originality of expression inspire us to achieve that aspiration.
In recognition of your contribution to this mission and the art world, we are proud to recognize you with our highest honor.