Currently on view (Gallery 305)

Yellow Curve I

1972Oil on canvas
170.2 x 341 cm

The work of American artist Ellsworth Kelly (b. 1923, Newburgh, New York; d. 2015, New York) features prominently in 20th-century abstraction. It eludes classification according to the categories of the time, although similarities and connections with contemporary movements can be found, especially Hard-Edge painting and Minimalism. Kelly created his own universe, where the traditional figure/ground dichotomy gets blurred.

Initially trained in the Boston Museum School, which was devoted to the study of the great masters from the history of art and their mediums, Kelly soon moved to Paris after the war, where he abandoned figurative art to explore the purely pictorial qualities of the artwork, removing the confines of the rectangular frame so that figure and ground could become a whole. He developed an interest in European architecture, and explored and experimented with essential forms and patterns. Some of the most iconic of his early works reflect this interest; for instance, Window, Museum of Modern Art, Paris (1949), painted more than two decades before Yellow Curve I (1972), which was inspired in the fanlight on the landing between the first and second floor of his Spencertown house.[i] Kelly’s work from the time already shows the dissolution of the personality of the artist—not exactly the result of a quest, but still achieved through his refined technique erasing brushstrokes, lines, marks, or “accidents.”

The long, elegant curve traced by the velvety bright yellow inside a diamond-shaped canvas transforms the white surface of Yellow Curve I (1972) in a concave curve. The yellow oil draws a bulky horizon that seems to be produced by canvas distortion rather than by a deliberate gesture of the artist. In so doing, it poses a question about the relationship between figure and ground, and which comes first. With different corporeal realities, the yellow and the white paints vie for the painting’s space, but this can only be appreciated in a close, meticulous look at the work—an approach in which Kelly was not particularly interested. Instead, he preferred for his works to be seen as part of a whole expressed in a concise visual language that included the environment and affecting the viewer’s perception.

[i] Ellsworth Kelly: A Retrospective, exh. cat., The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 1996, p. 35.

Original title

Yellow Curve I




Oil on canvas

More info

© Ellsworth Kelly Foundation


170.2 x 341 cm

Credit line

Guggenheim Bilbao Museoa


Yellow Curve I, by Ellsworth Kelly

Inspired by Ellsworth Kelly’s mysterious Yellow Curve I (1972), actress and filmmaker Leticia Dolera imagines a yellow planet and an alien spacecraft and discusses with curator Manuel Cirauqui the painting’s shape, its architectural look, and the purity of its color.