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Robert Motherwell

American Painter and Printmaker

Robert Motherwell Photo

Born: January 24, 1915 - Aberdeen, Washington

Died: July 16, 1991 - Provincetown, Massachusetts

"Every intelligent painter carries the whole culture of modern painting in his head. It is his real subject, of which everything he paints in both an homage and a critique, and everything he says is a gloss."

Robert Motherwell Signature

Summary of Robert Motherwell

Possessing perhaps the best and most extensive formal education of all the New York School painters, Robert Motherwell was well versed in literature, philosophy and the European modernist traditions. His paintings, prints and collages feature simple shapes, bold color contrasts and a dynamic balance between restrained and boldly gestural brushstrokes. They reflect not only a dialogue with art history, philosophy and contemporary art, but also a sincere and considered engagement with autobiographical content, contemporary events and the essential human conditions of life, death, oppression and revolution.

Key Ideas

Motherwell was an accomplished writer and editor, as well as an eloquent speaker. Through his teaching, lectures and publications, he became an unofficial spokesman and interpreter for the Abstract Expressionist movement.
Several key themes define Motherwell's work: the dialogue between repression and rebellion, between European modernism and a new American vision, and between formal and emotional approaches to art making.
Motherwell was an accomplished printmaker and an avid collagist, and he often used these techniques to engage with and respond to the influences of European modernism.
Robert Motherwell Photo

Robert Motherwell was born in Aberdeen, Washington, in 1915, but he would spend much of his childhood in the dry environs of central California, where he was sent in an effort to relieve his severe asthma. The son of a well-to-do and conservative bank chairman, Motherwell was expected to follow in his father's footsteps. From early on, though, Motherwell displayed an affinity for more intellectual and creative pursuits, and his early education included a scholarship to study at the Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles.

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