October 9, 2016

MODERN ART & DESIGN AUCTION

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Lot 250: Craig Ellwood

Lot 250: Craig Ellwood

For Josef-White #1

1979-1981
Painted Masonite and plywood
#2 of 12
Signed, titled, and dated with edition in black felt-tip marker verso; inscribed "Constructed in U.S.A. '79-80/Painted in Italy '81/60 cm x 60 cm"
23.75" x 23.875"
Provenance: The artist;
Thence by descent
Estimate: $3,000 - $5,000
Price Realized: $3,125
Inventory Id: 23249

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Renowned for his elegant architectural designs, Craig Ellwood (1922-1992) fused a Californian sensibility with the strict formalism of European modernist architects like Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. A maverick figure, self-taught and hugely ambitious, Ellwood's life story embodies the frontier spirit of the West Coast. He moved with his family from Texas to California in the mid–1920s, and as an adult he changed his name from Jon Nelson Burke, thinking Craig a more appropriate name for an architect. His buildings combined glass walls and steel frames with a particular attention to site, and his legacy can be seen throughout Los Angeles.

With the rise of postmodernism, Ellwood began to turn away from architecture. He became increasingly drawn to the purity of form offered by abstract painting. His widow, Leslie Phillips, stated that "Craig felt that painting was a purer expression of his architectural vision." Ellwood was deeply influenced by Josef Albers, who he met at Yale University in the 1950s while Albers was serving as Chairman of the Department of Design. The four Masonite and plywood works, For Josef, pay tribute to his mentor. Ellwood was also encouraged to paint by famed Hard Edge abstract artist, Lorser Feitelson, who sent two blank canvases to Ellwood's office, along with a note bearing the simple instruction— 'Paint!'

Created in 1981, Capriccio demonstrates Ellwood's natural facility with his chosen medium. The painting's unconventional diamond orientation contrasts with its cool structural grid. A dramatic gradient draws the eye from the black outer corners into the pale center of the work. Ellwood constructed his paintings meticulously, carefully rendering each color and gradation square–by–square. The imposition of multiple geometries, with squares overlaid from border to grid to background, nods to the classical formalism of Ellwood's architectural heroes. Phillips described his devotion to the purity of abstract painting, saying: "With canvas and paint he could craft space, line, and color, creating the vibration of harmony and beauty that he held so dear."

Jackson, Neil. California Modern: The Architecture of Craig Ellwood. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2002. Print.

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