The pristine, semigloss surfaces of the Painted Wall Sculptures hover perceptually and paradoxically between flatness and infinite depth. Dynamic formal relationships between the 11 panels—and between the panels and their surroundings—activate the gallery space. Fragments of observed reality, such as architectural details and fleeting natural phenomena—roof lines, windows, shadows, reflections—provided Ellsworth Kelly (American, 1923–2015) with suggestive geometric reference points, if not direct models, for his abstract forms. He reused shapes, sometimes flipping or reversing them, to test the visual and emotional effects of substitutions of color, form, and orientation. In this series, Kelly repeats color (two panels are dark green) and shape (the black and white panels, among others). Indeed, the eleven panels conform to just six distinct trapezoidal configurations.
Ellsworth Kelly, Painted Wall Sculptures, 1982
Sidney Felsen in installation of Ellsworth Kelly's Painted Wall Sculptures, 1982, photograph by Rob Shelley © 2015 National Gallery of Art, Washington