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Kenneth Noland Artworks

American Painter

Kenneth Noland Photo

Born: April 10, 1924 - Asheville, North Carolina

Died: January 5, 2010 - Port Clyde, Maine

Artworks by Kenneth Noland

The below artworks are the most important by Kenneth Noland - that both overview the major creative periods, and highlight the greatest achievements by the artist.

Tiger Lilies (1953)

This early oil painting dates close to Noland's first visit to Helen Frankenthaler's studio, when the artist was clearly still working under Abstract Expressionism's influence and trying to find his own painterly voice. Noland's early style is exemplified by visible brushwork, monochromatic palette, and calligraphic markings; the painting's title indicates that he had not yet ceased making references to the material world in his art.

Ex-Nihilo (1958)

The late 1950s marked an important turning point in Noland's career. In Ex Nihilo (a Latin phrase meaning "out of nothing"), Noland began painting simplified forms and balancing carefully selected colors in order to create, as the painting's title suggests, something out of nothing. However, Noland had yet to find his signature style. Unlike his later renditions of his circles and targets, where color itself is the subject, here he hinted at the representational or even the figurative. The gray-ringed, amoeba-like form resembles an egg being fertilized from its left side, while the innermost area (painted in gold, pink, and pale blue) could be some kind of zygote. We seem to be witnessing the conception of form, as order is manifested out of chaos.

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Beginnings (1958)

This work, which places concentric circles on a perfectly square canvas, marks one of Noland's very first attempts at painting basic forms and archetypal patterns. Beginnings's circles are slightly irregular, an effect that may or may not have been intentional. Their varying colors complement or contrast with one another, creating a lively perceptual effect for the viewer. The final, jagged penumbra of black paint that frames these inner circles reinforces the improvisational feel of the whole work, pulling the viewer's attention beyond the nested circular forms and imbuing the whole with a burst of energy.

Birth (1961)

In this mature Circle canvas, Noland painted three concentric circles in complementary colors: yellow, magenta, and red. Although the viewer may attempt to see the circles as receding into space, they remain flat on the picture plane. Rather than attempting to create an illusion of depth, the artist focuses on the relational qualities of the three colors (how they make one another appear brighter or darker, softer or more intense) as well as the contrast between the vibrant, hard-edged rings and their neutral background. The title hints at the circle's universal symbolism of life and eternity, yet there is no specific subject matter in this totally abstract work: the only "birth" or creation that has occurred is that of the painting itself.

Shoot (1964)

In the early 1960s Noland began painting chevrons, or sharply defined V-shaped forms. This shift from circles to straight lines gave him the opportunity to start afresh in his exploration of color relationships, arranging contrasts of colors that interacted side-by-side rather than radially from a shared center. Shoot is an arrangement of four nested chevrons painted in alternating cool and warm colors. Rather than read this canvas from left to right, as we might do with a narrative scene or a landscape, we automatically concentrate on the center of this strictly symmetrical abstract arrangement on its square canvas. The point of the outermost chevron makes contact with the lower edge, thus creating a tension between Noland's composition and the boundaries of its picture plane.

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Bend Sinister (1964)

In some Chevron paintings, such Bend Sinister, Noland placed his compositions off-center against neutral grounds. Although Noland's titles are often difficult to decipher, this one makes a clear allusion to the painting's structure: "sinister" is the Latin word for "left," the direction in which the chevron forms point. The asymmetry of this work and this use of fewer colors with more contrast adds to the piece's visual drama, and the placement of the chevrons pointing downwards from the top edge of the canvas reverses the viewer's expectations of where and how to look.

Graded Exposure (1967)

In the late 1960s, Noland ventured into new territory with his Striped paintings. With this work, which measures nearly 19 feet wide, Noland painted his stripes progressively thinner towards the top, as if the image were receding into the distance. Additionally, the rainbow-like effect of coloring suggests a horizon that extends beyond the canvas. This visual effect, however, should not be confused with any particular subject matter or context, since Noland repeatedly stated that the content of his art is pure color and form, and nothing more. As he said in an interview of 1977, "I wanted to have color be the origin of the painting, I was trying to neutralize the layout, the shape, the composition. I wanted to make color the generating force." By working on a monumental scale, he has also granted pure abstraction the same status as traditional history painting or landscape painting.

Vault (1976)

Noland said in a 1977 interview, "Paintings have their own boundaries, their own zones, their own limits." His innovation of shaped canvases allowed him to vary the boundaries of his works, creating new effects of weight and movement without resorting to traditional illusionism or perspective. Whereas Noland's Chevrons and Circles series created visual tension between color and blank background, Vault is animated from edge to edge with color. And, unlike the square canvases of other paintings, this shaped canvas allows its support to echo and reinforce the wedges of color that are the work's sole content. By unifying composition and support while eliminating representational imagery, pictorial space, and any evidence of his own brushwork, Noland succeeds in making the interplay of color and form his only subject.

Related Artists and Major Works

Composition with Large Red Plane, Yellow, Black, Gray, and Blue (1921)

Composition with Large Red Plane, Yellow, Black, Gray, and Blue (1921)

Artist: Piet Mondrian (Read Full Artist Overview, Biography, and Artworks pages)

In the 1920s, Mondrian began to create the definitive abstract paintings for which he is best known. He limited his palette to white, black, gray, and the three primary colors, with the composition constructed from thick, black horizontal and vertical lines that delineated the outlines of the various rectangles of color or reserve. The simplification of the pictorial elements was essential for Mondrian's creation of a new abstract art, distinct from Cubism and Futurism. The assorted blocks of color and lines of differing width create rhythms that ebb and flow across the surface of the canvas, echoing the varied rhythm of modern life. The composition is asymmetrical, as in all of his mature paintings, with one large dominant block of color, here red, balanced by distribution of the smaller blocks of yellow, blue gray, and white around it. This style has been quoted by many artists and designers in all aspects of culture since the 1920s.

Soft Spoken (1969)

Artist: Josef Albers (Read Full Artist Overview, Biography, and Artworks pages)

This work in the Homage to the Square series was executed almost 20 years into what may be the most sustained exploration of the relational character of color in 20th-century art. An application of a quasi-scientific method to art-making, the Homage works demonstrate the capacity of a strictly limited formal strategy to produce inexhaustible permutations and continually generate new visual and aesthetic experiences. In Soft Spoken, Albers has added a fourth square, and narrowed the range of color, while retaining the calculated asymmetry of the other works in the series. This late work continues and extends Albers's lifelong, and remarkably consistent, pedagogical focus on "opening eyes" through the repetition of forms and subtle color juxtapositions that generate internal friction, movement, and instability. Regarding them more as experiments than expressive statements, Albers continued adding to the series until the end of his life, "not because of the squares, but because there is no end with color." He donated this painting to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1972, a year after they honored Albers with the museum's first ever solo exhibition of a living artist.

Mountains and Sea (1952)

Mountains and Sea (1952)

Artist: Helen Frankenthaler (Read Full Artist Overview, Biography, and Artworks pages)

This canvas is the artist's landmark piece in which she first pioneered her soak-stain process. Despite its large size (7 x 10 feet), it is a work of quiet intimacy. Painted on the artist's return from Nova Scotia, Mountains and Sea retains the artist's impressions of the Cape Breton environs; as she famously described, the region's landscapes "were in my arms as I did it ... I was trying to get at something - I didn't know what until it was manifest." Here, color takes on a new, primary role, with washes of pink, blue, and green defining the hills, rocks, and water, the forms of which are sketchily outlined in charcoal. Following their encounter with Mountains and Sea and other works by Frankenthaler produced by means of the soak-stain technique, Morris Louis and Kenneth Noland promptly embraced the method and, together with Frankenthaler, launched the "next big thing" in American art: Color Field Painting.

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