The Color Field Movement

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Kenneth Noland working in Washington, DC., was a pioneer of the this amazing movement in the late 1950s.It's a style of abstract painting that emerged in New York City during the 1940s and 1950s. It was inspired by European modernism and closely related to Abstract Expressionism , while many of its notable early proponents were among the pioneering Abstract Expressionists. This type of painting is characterized primarily by large areas of flat, solid color spread across or stained into the canvas; creating areas of unbroken surface and a flat picture plane. The movement places less emphasis on gesture, brushstrokes and action in favour of an overall consistency of form and process.

During the late 1950s and 1960s, Color field painters emerged in Great Britain, Canada, Washington, DC. and the West Coast of the United States using formats of stripes, targets, simple geometric patterns and references to landscape imagery and to nature.

Historical Roots

Clyfford Still, 1957 D1, 1957. Still was considered an abstract expressionist and one of the foremost painters in the movement. The focus of attention in the world of contemporary art began to shift from Paris to New York City after World War II and the development of American Abstract Expressionism. During the late 1940s and early 1950s Clement Greenberg was the first art critic to suggest and identify a dichotomy between differing tendencies within the Abstract Expressionist canon. Taking issue with Harold Rosenberg (another important champion of Abstract Expressionism) who wrote of the virtues of Action Painting in his famous article American Action Painters published in the December 1952 issue of ARTnews, Greenberg observed another tendency toward all-over color or Color Field in the works of several of the so-called "First Generation" Abstract Expressionists.

Robert Motherwell

Robert Motherwell , (See above)Elegy to the Spanish Republic No. 110, 1971. A pioneer of both Abstract Expressionism and Color Field painting, Robert Motherwell's Elegy to The Spanish Republic series embodies both tendencies.Mark Rothko was one of the painters that Greenberg referred to as one of the first painters exemplified by Magenta, Black, Green on Orange, although Rothko himself refused to adhere to any label. For Rothko, color was "merely an instrument." In a sense, his best known works – the "multiforms" and his other signature paintings are, in essence, the same expression, albeit one of purer (or less concrete or definable, depending on your interpretation) means, which is that of the same "basic human emotions," as his earlier Surrealistic mythological paintings. What is common among these stylistic innovations is a concern for "tragedy, ecstasy and doom." By 1958, whatever spiritual expression Rothko meant to portray on canvas, it was growing increasingly darker. His bright reds, yellows and oranges of the early 1950s subtly transformed into dark blues, greens, grays and blacks. His final series of paintings from the mid-1960s were gray, and black with white borders, seemingly abstract landscapes; of an endless bleak, tundra-like, unknown country.

Mark Rothko

Mark Rothko , during the mid 1940s was in the middle of a crucial period of transition, and he had been impressed by Clyfford Still’s abstract areas of color, which were influenced in part by the landscapes of Still’s native North Dakota. In 1947, during a subsequent semester teaching at the California School of Fine Art, (known today as the San Francisco Art Institute), Rothko and Still flirted with the idea of founding their own curriculum or school – so to speak. Clyfford Still was also considered one of the foremost painters in this movement – his non-figurative paintings are largely concerned with the juxtaposition of different colors and surfaces. His jagged flashes of color give the impression that one layer of color has been "torn" off the painting, revealing the colors underneath, reminiscent of stalactites and primordial caverns. Still's arrangements are irregular, jagged, and pitted with heavy texture and a sharp surface contrast.

Barnett Newman

Barnett Newman is considered one of the major figures in abstract expressionism and one of the foremost of the color field painters. Newman's mature work is characterised by areas of color pure and flat separated by thin vertical lines, or "zips" as Newman called them. Newman himself thought that he reached his fully mature style with the Onement series (from 1948) and seen here. The zips define the spatial structure of the painting, whilst simultaneously dividing and uniting the composition. Although Newman's paintings appear to be purely abstract, and many of them were originally untitled, the names he later gave them hinted at specific subjects being addressed, often with a Jewish theme. Two paintings from the early 1950s, for example, are called Adam and Eve , and there is also Uriel (1954) and Abraham (1949), a very dark painting, which as well as being the name of a biblical patriarch, was also the name of Newman's father, who had died in 1947. Newman's late works, such as the Who's Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue series, use vibrant, pure colors, often on very large canvases.

Hans Hofmann

Hans Hofmann, The Gate, 1959-1960. Hofmann was renowned not only as an artist but as a teacher of art. Hofmann was one of the first theorists of the movement and his theories were influential particularly to Clement Greenberg as well as to others during the 1930s and 1940s.While Arshile Gorky is considered to be one of the founding fathers of Abstract Expressionism and a Surrealist he was also one of the first painters of the New York School who used the technique of staining. Gorky created broad fields of vivid, open, unbroken, color that he used in his many of his paintings as grounds. In Gorky's most effective and accomplished paintings between the years 1941-1948 he consistently used intense stained fields of color, often letting the paint run and drip, under and around his familiar lexicon of organic and biomorphic shapes and delicate lines. Another abstract expressionist whose works in the 1940s call to mind the stain paintings of the 1960s and the 1970s is James Brooks. Brooks regularly used stain as a technique in his paintings from the late 1940s. Brooks began diluting his oil paint in order to have fluid colors with which to pour and drip and stain into the mostly raw canvas that he used. These works often combined calligraphy and abstract shapes. During the final three decades of his career Sam Francis' style of large scale bright Abstract expressionism was closely associated with color Field painting. His paintings straddled both camps within the Abstract Expressionist rubric, Action painting and this movement of painting.

Jackson Pollock

Although Jackson Pollock is closely associated with Action Painting because of his style, technique and his painterly touch and his physical application of paint, art critics have likened Pollock to both Action painting and color field painting. Another critical view advanced by Clement Greenberg connects Pollock's allover canvasses to the large-scale Water Lilies of Claude Monet done during the 1920s. Greenberg, art critic Michael Fried and others have observed that the overall feeling in Pollock's most famous works - his drip paintings read as vast fields of built up linear elements often reading as vast complexes of similar valued paint skeins that read as all over fields of color and drawing, and are related to the mural sized late Monet's that are constructed of many passages of close valued brushed and scumbled marks that also read as close valued fields of color and drawing that Monet used in building his picture surfaces. Pollock's use of all over composition lend a philosophical and a physical connection to the way the color field painters like Newman, Rothko and Still construct their unbroken and in Still's case broken surfaces. In several paintings that Pollock painted after his classic drip painting period of 1947-1950 he used the technique of staining fluid oil paint and house paint into raw canvas. During 1951 he produced a series of semi-figurative black stain paintings, and in 1952 he produced stain paintings using color. In his November 1952 exhibition at the Sidney Janis Gallery in New York City Pollock showed Number 12, 1952 a large masterful stain painting that resembles a brightly colored stained landscape (with an overlay of broadly dripped dark paint); the painting was acquired from the exhibition by Nelson Rockefeller for his personal collection. In 1960 the painting was severely damaged by fire in the Governors Mansion in Albany that also severely damaged an Arshile Gorky painting and several other works in the Rockefeller collection. However, by 1999 it had been restored, and was installed in the Albany Mall.

Frank Stella

During the late 1950s and early 1960s Frank Stella was a significant figure in the emergence of Minimalism, Post-Painterly Abstraction and this movement. His shaped canvases of the 1960s like Harrah II, 1967, revolutionized abstract painting. One of the most important characteristics of Stella's paintings is his use of repetition. His Black Pin Stripe paintings of 1959 startled and shocked an art world that was unused to seeing monochromatic and repetitive images, painted flat, with almost no inflexion. During the early 1960s Stella made several series' of notched Aluminum Paintings and shaped Copper Paintings before making multi-colored and asymmetrical shaped canvases of the late 1960s. Frank Stella's approach and relationship to the movement was not permanent or central to his creative output; as his work became more and more 3 dimensional after 1980.

Book Review....

Here is a wonderful book that I found about many abstract movements. It's a comprehensive read and truly inspired me...It's called Colourfield Painting: Minimal, Cool, Hard Edge, Serial and Post-Painterly Abstract Art of the Sixties to the Present by Stuart Morris. I also found this book review by Jeremy Robinson to inspire you further....Enjoy!

Book review by Jeremy Robinson:

So many great painters - Frank Stella, Agnes Martin, Helen Frankenthaler, Elizabeth Murray, Robert Ryman Ad Reinhardt, Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman, and the incredible Morris Louis - are in this book. The author concentrates on the golden age of colourfield and post-painterly abstract painting - the 1950s and the 1960s - but also brings the form or approach to painting to date, with some of my favourite artists - like Gerhard Richter and Anselm Keifer. This is painting as pure pleasure, as pure optical joy. It doesn't necessarily `mean' anything, or is `about' anything. It's just great painting, done by some fantastic artists.

Some great posters to collect.....

This is a great way to imagine a chosen poster on your wall! All you have to do is type in the artist of your dreams in the search box then you will arrive at Allposters where you can choose your favorite painting ....Then, click on the painting, you will then see it in a bigger size and have the option of viewing it framed on a wall in a variety of different settings...even in the bathroom! Cool ha? Isn't technology great!

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