Expressive Geometry: Michael Wall evokes Ellsworth Kelly

Like Ellsworth Kelly (1923-2015), contemporary artist Michael Wall creates work that elegantly combines expressive abstraction with geometric simplicity. I love both styles, but I am especially drawn to the artwork that somehow has a foot in both territories.

Michael Wall painting
Michael Wall, Yellow on White I, 2019

In my work I don’t want you to look at the surface; I want you to look at the form, the relationships.

Ellsworth Kelly

My fascination goes all the way back to art school, where I appropriated the back wall of the painting studio. I tacked up huge pieces of canvas, often seven or eight feet in length, and four or five feet tall. With this expanse of space, I was free to try out techniques borrowed from the abstract expressionists, as well as artists like Barnett Newman, Mark Rothko, and Ellsworth Kelly. I found it impossible to paint with the level of control of someone like Kelly, so I found myself developing a purely expressionist style.

Ellsworth Kelly painting
Ellsworth Kelly, Yellow over Yellow (Jaune sur jaune),1965

Nevertheless, I still love and appreciate the pure geometric aesthetic. In particular, what I like about Ellsworth Kelly is the way his simple shapes–in brilliant primary colors–sometimes bleed off, or just touch the edge, of the picture plane. I admire how he plays with positive and negative space, and his ability to make the simple both elegant and sexy.

Ellsworth Kelly painting
Ellsworth Kelly, Red White, 1962

For almost seventy years, Ellsworth Kelly couldn’t be put into a single box. Critics tried to classify him as a color field, hard-edge, or minimalist painter, but his contribution was unique. His visual vocabulary is drawn from observation of the world around him. He had an eye for the shapes and colors from his environment–including plants, architecture, even shadows. He was interested in the spaces between the object and background, and the interaction between his work and the viewer. 

Ellsworth Kelly painting
Ellsworth Kelly, Green Blue Red, 1962

I immediately thought of Kelly when I recently discovered Michael Wall. Wall creates geometric works that evoke the simplicity and elegance of Kelly. Wall keeps it simple and that’s the appeal of his work, the efficiency of it all. He cleverly plays with positive and negative, placing visually interesting geometric shapes on either a white or color background. Like Kelly, Wall is focused on creating for the viewer to decode.

In his piece, Black on Red I, Wall puts all these elements into play with perfection. The black forms creating visual tension, overlapping one another on a red background. It’s a sublime example of just how good geometric abstraction can be.

Michael Wall painting
Michael Wall, Black on Red I, 2019

Wall employs a visual vocabulary reminiscent of the geometric abstraction of the 1980s, but his work is uniquely situated in the 21st century, evoking sophistication and confidence. His smart compositions and adroit use of color remind me how much I really love this style of painting.

Michael Wall painting
Michael Wall, Pink Natural III, 2019

I encourage you to find out more about Michael Wall on Tappan Collective.

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