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Barnett Newman

American Painter

Barnett Newman Photo

Born: January 29, 1905 - New York, New York

Died: July 4, 1970 - New York, New York

"I hope that my painting has the impact of giving someone, as it did me, the feeling of his own totality, of his own separateness, of his own individuality."

Barnett Newman Signature

Summary of Barnett Newman

Newman shared the Abstract Expressionists' interests in myth and the primitive unconscious, but the huge fields of color and trademark "zips" in his pictures set him apart from the gestural abstraction of many of his peers. The response to his mature work, even from friends, was muted when he first exhibited it. It was not until later in his career that he began to receive acclaim, and he would subsequently become a touchstone for both Minimalists and a second generation of Color Field painters. Commenting on one of Newman's exhibitions in 1959, critic Thomas B. Hess wrote, "he changed in about a year's time from an outcast or a crank into the father figure of two generations."

Key Ideas

Newman believed that the modern world had rendered traditional art subjects and styles invalid, especially in the post-World War II years shadowed by conflict, fear, and tragedy. Newman wrote: "old standards of beauty were irrelevant: the sublime was all that was appropriate - an experience of enormity which might lift modern humanity out of its torpor."
Newman's pictures were a decisive break with the gestural abstraction of his peers. Instead, he devised an approach that avoided painting's conventional oppositions of figure and ground. He created a symbol, the "zip," which might reach out and invoke the viewer standing before it - the viewer fired with the spark of life.
He thought that humans had a primal drive to create, and one could find expressions of the same instincts and yearnings locked in ancient art as one would find in modern art. He saw artists, and himself, as the creators of the world.
Barnett Newman's <i>Vir Heroicus Sublimis</i> at the Museum of Modern Art, New York City

Saying "A painter is a choreographer of space," Barnett Newman invented what he called the "zip," a band of vertical color. Thus he led Abstract Expressionism and Color Field Painting, impacted related movements, while also being an inspiring art theorist.

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