Ellsworth Kelly, Spectrum Colors Arranged by Chance I—VIII
While in Paris between 1948 and 1954, Ellsworth Kelly explored many new artistic strategies. Seeking to abandon figuration for abstraction, in 1950 he seized upon the randomness of collage made of cut-up pieces of his drawings. In a further effort to remove any semblance of a figurative image from his work, the next year he arranged collaged elements by chance on the systematic form of the grid. The fortuitous discovery in a Paris stationery shop of a stock of gummed papers in twenty colors led to eight collages entitled Spectrum Colors Arranged by Chance; the present composition is the first in the series. With a method both systematic and random, Kelly took the small squares of colored paper and arranged them quickly and intuitively on the grid, as if by chance, using no system or scientific method except to proceed progressively from the grid’s lateral sides toward the center. As a result of Kelly’s instinctive and playful method of composing, try as one might, there is no scheme or pattern to discover in the arrangement of the colors in this vibrant collage. Innis Howe Shoemaker, from Philadelphia Museum of Art: Handbook of the Collections, 2009.
From an interview at the Tate Museum:
Christoph Grunenberg: Did you use a mathematical system with the early works?
Ellsworth Kelly: It was a chance system for the placement of colours on a grid. Numbered slips of paper each referred to a colour, one of eighteen different hues to be placed on a grid 40 inches by 40 inches. Each of the eight collages used a different process.
Christoph Grunenberg: Did you make conscious references in the arrangement of these works to the aesthetics of the colour chart?
Ellsworth Kelly: I never thought of colour charts at all when I was working on them. They were really an experiment. I wanted to show how any colour goes with any other colour. Above all, I wanted to learn about colour relationships. Many of the works of this period start from chance encounters, such as shadows on a staircase, the reflections of the sun on the River Seine and the exposed sides of buildings that showed the abstract black patterns where the chimneys had been. After the experiments with arranging colours by chance came my first works using the actual colour spectrum as a source (Spectrum I, 1953).
I really love these. Pixel art before pixels were a thing.