This will be the last essay devoted to the subject of little squares for a while. One hopes that the Ellsworth Kelly audience is paying attention, though I fear that this group of readers has not ventured any further than the original post I wrote in which I bad-mouthed the currently fashionable (and now also rather elderly) artist. I will not have scratched the surface, really, of the full significance of boxes as a form in art. However, one needs to move on. For whomever might be interested in the saga from beginning to denouement, it began with a post called Less than Perfect.
Above is an amazing and strange drawing by the great French artist Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres. He made the drawing as a study for his famous portrait of Mme. Moitessier (now in London). Though the real Mrs. Moitessier never posed nude for the portrait, the artist realized this drawing either by working from memory — or, as is more likely — having a studio model assume the pose so that he could better study the structure of his pictorial idea.
What is most strange, however, is not the nudity of the model but the strange conjunction of the figure with a grid of squares. Even if Ingres had intended to use this grid to firm up his drawing as he transferred the idea from drawing to canvas or from one study to another study, this grid is not even placed over most of the figure. Indeed the focal point of the grid (assuming that the middle position relates to the focus) is located approximately at the model’s left elbow.
Seeing the drawing in reproduction, I can’t detect whether the grid or the drawing was made first. Either alternative presents questions. If he made the drawing first and the grid after, one wonders what purpose the grid serves. If he made the grid first and then the drawing, one wonders why he didn’t choose a plain sheet for such an elegant study. As things stand, though, with model and grid both occupying prominent places on this sheet, we find a drawing of sinuous organic lines contrasted with a delicate, spider’s web of incisive geometric boxes.
When the whole appears to be more than the sum of the parts, as here, one can only speculate that perhaps for an enigmatic reason that we can only feel without quite understanding, the figure drawing and the mathematical grid both enliven each other.
For me it demonstrates that in true art, a complex psychology lives. It resides inside certain images, giving them a force and resonance that speak to the heart and the mind in the silent language of sight. Certainly, this life of little squares possesses more ingenuity and more poignancy and more insistence than do Mr. Kelly’s very less ambitious images.
I may not have persuaded his fans, though. Alas. Thus it is still true that you can bring a horse to water, but you cannot make him drink.