[ToC]

 

AS SOON AS I GET IT RIGHT I'LL SEND YOU THIS LETTER

Barbara Flug Colin

 

1975

Dear Ellsworth Kelly,

You said your early work in France, '48-'54 is the basis for my later work...

In your early work, why did you trust your dream you sketched as you awoke, for Rêve...

Why did you recreate shadowed steps down from your balcony to attach as a screen...

Why wouldn't you sell that screen...

Do you think language screens memory...

Do you agree with Mondrian that the old art language is awareness of material things, the
new is the mind's awareness of itself...

Is that why your '49 museum window is itself as it is rather than a see-through to
something else, like a canvas used to be...

P.S. I'm learning about art. I audit great art critics' classes, must interview you. I'll call.

*

1977

Dear Ellsworth Kelly,

Is your art the mind's awareness of itself, like Mondrian says it is for him. Is your early
tennis court's center twisted sideways and the doubles lines missing, your reality. Are
your early shadows under a shelter, over stairs, on water below a bridge how it is to be:
equivalent dark and light. Why does darkness center your Seine reflections. Why do you
square the water. Why do you recreate rails shadowing descending stairs. Is the descent
blocked, stained. Are roots in your palms in your 1947 Self-Portrait roots of memory.

P.S. Monday, in Roy Lichtenstein's East Hampton living room, he said when he was five
he refused to paint a conventional house. Then he led me out of his conventional house in
to his studio. Two men on ladders, painting his sculpture, smiled. Did you get my note.

*

1982

Dear Ellsworth Kelly,

What is the object. Mondrian says sensation is in idea, divine wisdom is represented in
structure, not in ourselves. Your 1986 huge Untitled no.10 stainless curved horizontal,
diagonally rising to be right angle, put everything else in terms of It. My friend behind It
disappeared. A wall behind It was cut off. My feeling walking behind It of being cut off.

Last night in Carnegie Hall, seated onstage near Rudolf Serkin fingering black and white
keys, I wondered why we go out to feel being inside a human facsimile. Balconies of
boxes looking down on rows to a stage for somebody else performing somebody else's
structure. At first applause I walked offstage. To feel being inside. A backstage room.

P.S. Did you see the match. Louise Bourgeois' MoMA retrospective showed her first
drawing beside her final sculpture. They matched. I see this in your process. Call back.

*

1987

Dear Ellsworth Kelly,

It interests me that since your return home, from France, to NYC, then, upstate, where you
said, deer come down like crazy, your sculptural objects, to be executed by somebody
else, manifest the greatest degree of feeling.

You said your painting, though a sum of all ideas you want to present, is still a painted image
between a real thing and a metaphor that sculpture makes come to life again, stand again on
its own.

Are your reliefs in between painting and sculpture. Your canvas emptied to be shape itself
emerging from the wall. Are these boundaries between mediums, styles, forms of self-
recreation, human constructs of unity we interrupt.

Monet said his Nymphéas are different phases of the same state. In studies for Reflection in
the Seine,
your shapes echo Motherwell's and Bourgeois' phallic shapes. Is sensation the
essential subject.

Is light. Is light sensation. Blind old Monet lost sight of color and form to create the solution
of light in his Nymphéas, his work that interests you the most. Is original sensation
consciousness before words. Is that the luminous glow in your canvas.

Is In the beginning. The fall into consciousness. So 1 is 2, 1 in, 1 out of control. Base. The
first conflict. Up-down, right-left…to be conjugated by many generations of home, base.
Many relatives to make a point, find a language. To remember.

Are all the arts a unity, like sensation was darkness language brought to light in memory of
nothing to be possessed by relatives of what is being itself, what is human and common
before labels, easels.

You said your 1952 Seven Panels:Kite I felt good because it was empty, without
composition. What did those panels let go. You said you put things on a track to let the forms
speak. If things are pregnant with being do they speak their own meaning.

Do they tell us of the room that surrounds them. Is that why you don't want your work to be
self-contained but to be interesting because it makes you aware of all the rest; the lines on the
walls, the ceiling, the floor, the museum we are in that is within us.

In London, for your exhibition they cleared out furniture and walls and the emptiness was
your canvas. You wanted each piece to be anonymous, empty. But the show was labeled and
your work is your signature. Is to be empty in the room, not to be the room empty.

As foreground and background become one, as you reject illusionism, is there no illusion. Is
a canvas as fictional as a real field diluted by a piece of sculpture. As fictional as reality
deluded by language experience patterns patterning experience in memory of language.

Are color and form real value. Is money. Are generations of relatives the original removed by
degrees. Is reality the object of our subjectivity. Is meaning a mean between. Why must your
sculpture's physicality return us to our body.

Monet's late water lilies you love knew the nature of painting. Re-creation became being, a
pond to live in without horizon or bank, an efflorescent center, in solution. Crossing the solid
mean between, the railed footbridge, he dove into the frameless mirror.

He was in back country of self-reflecting sea-sky. No boat. The white bird dissolved in
unresolved shifting clouds reflecting in, giving light to, and distorting planes of water.
No mangroves. No time to press through to return to safe ground.

He was dying. Dissolution was solution. A scape with no kilometer marker. A painting
unafraid to turn upside down, enlarge shapes he kept smaller, earlier. An ongoing flux of a
mirror whose appearance alters at every moment because of sky.

Because of feeling. A cloud passes. A refreshing breeze. Light grows dim then bright again
transforming the coloring, distorting the planes. How many planes are juxtaposed. How
many canvases to work on at one time to return to the original, interrupted effect.

P.S. Don't worry. No one sees my interviews. I'm just trying to find out. Like after '82 Jack
Tworkov Whitney show, his process visible in his unconscious forms he called "fish" inside
his geometry, WERE extensions of his Abstract Expressionism. I said why not show old and
new, the consistency is there. He said freedom became cliché, we won't look back. His soft
voice like Dad's. Tworkov died a month later, same cancer Dad died of. Both born in Poland.

*

1989

Dear Ellsworth Kelly,

I wanted to interview you because your body of work epitomizes the metamorphosis of
the metaphor of the experience of self from subject to object. An object so whole and
universal because so wholly suffused by a subject which let it go

I wanted to interview you because your words are more interesting to me than art
criticism written about you. Your words about Tennis Court, your words about Seven
Panels:Kite I:
...no composition...empty. And many other I've spent time pondering.

Your art makes me feel, know. The words make me think, understand. I first interviewed
to understand what art is, why art lasts, what great means.
What is human and common.
Why a Hiro realistic photo and an abstract painting by Deborah Remington have the same
configuration, coloration, idiosyncratic details. Why an Ashbery poem and a de Chirico
painting have the same shelved objects.

It interests me that what it is is your tennis court; that being objectified is a progression
from your early Doris, apart from the tree, to roots in the hands of your '47 Self-Portrait;
from an inner horizon of Kilometer Marker to Untitled, 1986, set out against the real
horizon; from shadowed objects to objects casting and receiving shadow and light....

P.S. You were so fluid and kind on the phone and gave me so much and I wrote it all
down but it was not nearly enough but I had to rush my son to his little league game.

*

2003

Dear Ellsworth Kelly,

Matthew Marks gallery said they would contact you for an interview. I've heard nothing
but my own voice as I walked through his three galleries of your Recent Paintings:

This beginning sea, shadowed by sun, scarred by reflection.
This diagonal might fall from the blue cube of never feeling.
This dazzle of solid orange swiped by lime green makes me ask and answer: square.
This purple vertical over black horizontal is to square off
the white will of the wall.
This nothing, the white on white flag, is something.

But what if the white rectangle were upright like the blue,
what if the white were wholly exposed, unshadowed,
unshadowing the taller depths of blue.
What if the white curve flapped back,

it is more sensuous than the red opening
from black it doesn't really block
if you look behind the canvas.

P. S. On the phone Louise Bourgeois said yes. At her home she said no. So I shoved her
front door open, stepped in, asking my process questions. She served me champagne.

*

2012

Dear Ellsworth Kelly,                                                                          

Your 1949 Window, Museum of Modern Art and Tennis Court are related rectangles.


Today on a court I was inside your MoMA window, my legs on its legs below the window.

*

Your '49 wood reliefs based on primitive body sculptures have strings like tennis rackets.


Monica Seles talked to her racket, cursed, encouraged it. It responded, made the point.

*

There is one line across your Tennis Court, not a net.


One line strung across a field by Ellen Hansell, tennis-obsessed, too thin teen in her long
white dress begging for anybody to hit against: to become first women's tennis champion. 

*

Your 1957 Palm drawing is the palm of an abstract hand.


The origin of tennis: Jeu de paume. Palm Game.

*

Why did you say you recreated things as they are? Your 1949 Tennis Court center
is twisted sideways. The doubles lines are missing.


The original medieval Jeu de Paume. Also known as Real Tennis.

*

Pony: In 1959, while talking to Agnes Martin in your loft, your hands cut and folded a
take-out coffee cup top. A maquette for Pony, your curved and straight-edged sculpture.


The pull was strong but the machine broke down. Money was needed to fix the pony-
pulled mower, for the new pastime, lawn tennis. Wimbledon: the first tennis tournament.
 

*

Critic Joseph Maschek said you recreate original sensation. Critic Eugene Goossen said
your black and white random squares filling Seine, 1951 are pulsating reflections.


But the antique mower remains in Wimbledon, near centre court. The weighty green
cylinder on the ground, its two arms reaching, from each side, for the long lost animal.

*

Are those roots
in each palm of your 1947 Self-Portrait.


Original animal pull.
Original animal fur ball original jeu de paume medieval monk's palm repelled.

*

Your earliest memories of forms and colors, on the Oradell
reservoir shore, bird-watching with your grandmother,
repeat in your body of work.


Major Wingfield invented lawn tennis
in memory of childhood indoor
court he wanted out.

*

Your process from easel painting to painted wood reliefs to panels to steel sculpture.


First seeds: Ellen Hansell, Monica Seles...

*

Your red, deepest in, is sheltered by a larger yellow L inside the largest blue L in Red
Yellow Blue I,
1963.


First seed Seles, first woman to make formless sound from deepest in, out, loud. Animal
sound. Same decibels as a diesel train.

*

Three joined panels. Your red squared deepest in, sheltered by larger yellow L-shaped
panel inside the largest L-shaped blue. 1963, Red Yellow Blue I.


Three edifices. His new complex. After being expelled when he sent a pony in on a dare,
newspaper heir J.G. Bennett Jr. recreated that old Newport club as the Newport Casino.
 

* 

Your colored panels on ceilings and walls inside the L-shaped Boston Federal Building.


Newport Casino. To house recreation: theaters, stores, in and outdoor courts. First U.S.
National Lawn Tennis Association Tournaments. International Tennis Hall of Fame.

*

Red, the only square, the only whole, the smallest, is imprisoned deepest in the square.


Squares of outer cow or sheep intestine inside racket head. Squares woven as mesh net.

*

Your early memories of forms and colors.
Your early work: ...basis for my later work.
Your early dream you trusted and made real.
Dr. M. Reiser:...mind/brain has enduring network of stored memories encoded by images.


Suzanne Lenglen, women's tennis champion 1914-1926: Subconscious effect of a
deficiency can never be buried. However deep a grave you think you have dug for it,
however much you have heaped upon what you imagine is its corpse,

it will rise most living and lively to haunt...(from Lawn Tennis)


Miró:My vocabulary of forms...formulated itself almost in spite of me....a red circle, the
moon, and a star keep coming back.... different... recovering: one does not discover in
life.
Matisse: ...I have not changed...all that time I looked for the same things, which
perhaps I have realized by different means.


From animal fur ball to the center vacuumed covered with the felt.
From palm to hand covered by the mitt...
From monastery walls...to net, touched, then untouched.
From timed by clock, to pastime forgotten in a sport.
From hourglass court to rectangle.
From lawn to synthetic court surfaces….


From easel
to relief
to panels
to steel
to being housed in L-shaped edifice


From U.S.N.
L.
T.A. to U.S.
L.
T.A. to U.S.T.A.

*

Impressionism. Portable art. Outside.


Lawn tennis. Portable sport. Outside.

*

1874. First Impressionist exhibit.


1874. Major Wingfield patents lawn tennis.

*

Dear Ellsworth Kelly, Why did you right angle your spontaneous curvy sensuous
waterfall drawing or square shadows and reflections in the Seine or keep that red in the L.


Why was Wingfield's lawn tennis hourglass court right-angled for the first Wimbledon
tournament. A rectangle to forget what. Body in time. Pastime recreated in a sport.
 

*

If I call you for this interview and you say no.
If you say yes but I can't get to you.
If I can't get to you because I don't call.
If I get to you and find out.
It's too early.
Too late.


To save time in the tennis match,
James Van Alen invented
sudden death, at 6-6.
Then, Van Alen's
sudden death,
at 88

*

P.S. Does this seem true to you—Art, a vexatious appearance of life. Strokes branch from
the source, the further they branch the more original. The aim, freedom, balance, rhythm.                    
The secret, a first intention, a unity of conception, coincident control, body, brain, eye.
Character makes the creation. Believe the dream to be real and the real to be dream.
Believe nothing to be but what you make it to be—
as it was for Suzanne Lenglen, 31 times
tennis champion between 1914-1926, whose words I rearranged from her Lawn Tennis.

 


__

Take a look at Ellsworth Kelly's body of work. Early, you see self-portraits, portraits and body shapes, but also, bodies of water, plants, flowers, as if he re-creates his own nature as nature: himself as something else.

As I wrote "As Soon As I Get It Right I'll Send You This Letter," I was sending him letters asking for an interview. I'd been obsessed to interview great artists after closely studying their processes, sure that I'd found the key to language.

In the bodies of work I studied, I saw that, as Matisse or Miró or Ellsworth Kelly say, certain beginning forms recur unconsciously. This seems, to me, to be consistently true, on some level, to bodies of work.

A recurrence in art that science explains. In The Dream in Contemporary Psychiatry, Morton F. Reiser, M.D. says: Each of us carries within our mind/brain an enduring network of stored memories encoded by images that were perceived during significant emotional life experiences....
                                                               One early Kelly piece based on interior wall shadows and reflections cast by a streetlight, is a small, wood, ceiling-hung relief. In time, it transforms. Finally as a sculpture it is tall, stainless, steel, outside, absorbing and reflecting natural light. Casting its own shadows.

This seems, to me, like what occurs in a body of work. In time, the art piece is honed to stand on its own as a personal truth of our human nature. An identity. Like Ellsworth Kelly's els in the center of any self.

He was the only one who rejected me, so if you see him please tell him, 91 last May, to reconsider an interview.