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Ellsworth Kelly and the Ghost Army

Ellsworth Kelly next to a faux jeep made of burlap and wood, 1943 (left). Ghost Army Insignia circa 1944 (right).

Ellsworth Kelly next to a faux jeep made of burlap and wood, 1943 (left). Ghost Army Insignia circa 1944 (right).

Artists have long played a role on the battlefield, visually recording events and capturing the essence of important military figures through portraiture. In modern history, these tasks were more frequently carried out by photographers, but artists have participated in other interesting ways. Ellsworth Kelly is a renowned abstract artist known for his Colour Field paintings, but during the Second World War, he belonged to the intriguingly-named Ghost Unit of the U. S. Army. This was a unit of around 1100 men – many of them artists – whose task it was to create fake versions of aircraft, tanks and more from burlap and inflatable materials. The purpose was to create faux set-ups of the deceptive structures to distract form actual units. Kelly heard about the unit while in art school and joined the group, first making the tank prototype shown above. Other artists involved include fashion designer Bill Blass,, wildlife artist Arthur Singer, and fashion photographer Art Kane. The unit remained a secret until 1966.