Monday, June 20, 2011

Drawings on a Bus, 1954 by Ellsworth Kelly

After the Kassel festival I suffered from a bit of photobook burnout. The festival is growing to a decent size but 4 twelve hour days looking and talking about books can send even the most dedicated to seek a break. So, I wanted to intersperse a few non-photo related books over the next weeks which I found irresistible on this trip.

The first is a book which was published by Matthew Marks Gallery and Steidl in 2007 and can be found at a very cheap price on some remainder tables in Europe - Ellsworth Kelly: Drawings on a Bus, 1954. My copy set me back a measly 12 euros.

After six years in Paris, Kelly returned to New York in 1954 where a friend gave him a hardcover publisher's dummy of an old Sigfried Giedion Bauhaus book from the 20s thinking the blank pages would be perfect for sketching.

While riding the bus, this sketchbook (number #23), was filled with the chance drawings of the bus window shadows as they fell across the pages. Quickly marking the pages with the various changing shadows, he later inked in the outlines at his studio. Some of these sketches he later developed into larger paintings.

Abstract and in bold black and white they define the space on the page with graphic impulsive gestures which seem closer to typography than a response to simple light and dark patterns on the paper. The sequence reveals the pages filling with more black giving the sense of zooming in on the subtle nuances of these shadow/letter forms until an oval void spread across facing pages punctuates the ending.

The size of the book, the cardboard slipcase, printing and length feel near perfect. The fact that the blue cover - originally designed by the great Laszlo Moholy-Nagy for Giedion's book Bauen in Eisenbeton, Bauen in Eisen, Bauen in Frankreich - remains intact with Moholy-Nagy's typography and design suits the content in resonant ways.