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Color Field Painting Artworks

Color Field Painting Collage

Started: Late 1940s

Ended: Mid 1960s

Artworks and Artists of Color Field Painting

The below artworks are the most important in Color Field Painting - that both overview the major ideas of the movement, and highlight the greatest achievements by each artist in Color Field Painting. Don't forget to visit the artist overview pages of the artists that interest you.

1957-D-No. 1 (1957)

1957-D-No. 1 (1957)

By: Clyfford Still

There used to be some disagreement over which artist had first arrived at the style of Color Field abstraction. Most now believe that it was Clyfford Still who first did so - and at some remove from those in New York, such as Barnett Newman and Mark Rothko, who were also finding their way to the approach in the late 1940s. In this examplary work Still applied thick portions of color with a palette knife to achieve an effect that evokes a violent sundering in nature. Typically, Still's canvases were covered in rich earthy colors, from edge to edge.

No. 2, Green, Red and Blue (1953)

By: Mark Rothko

Although Rothko never considered himself a Color Field painter, his signature approach - balancing large portions of washed colors - matches up to critics' understanding of the style. Rothko considered color to be a mere instrument that served a greater purpose. He believed his fields of color were spiritual planes that could tap into our most basic human emotions. For Rothko, color evoked emotion. Therefore each of Rothko's works was intended to evoke different meanings depending on the viewer. In the time No. 2, Green, Red and Blue was made, Rothko was still using lighter tones, but as more years passed and Rothko's mental health increasingly declined, his Color Fields were constituted by somber blacks, blues, and grays.

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Mountains and Sea (1952)

Mountains and Sea (1952)

By: Helen Frankenthaler

Helen Frankenthaler played a crucial role in the evolution of Color Field Painting. Some time in or around 1952, Clement Greenberg invited Morris Louis and Kenneth Noland to pay a visit to Frankenthaler's studio in order to witness her technique of staining untreated canvas with paint. This seminal moment marked a turning point for Abstract Expressionism, and soon this new group of artists were simplifying the painting process by applying large bands (or waves, circles, lines, etc.) of uniform color to the canvas, and Color Field Painting advanced further.

East-West (1963)

By: Kenneth Noland

Kenneth Noland is often known for his exacting symmetry. Throughout his career he shifted from targets to chevrons to stripes, and experimented with many other styles in between (most notably the shaped canvas), but he always maintained a visual balance to his work. In East-West, Noland exercised his signature chevron style, and it is one of the many paintings in which the artist sought to achieve effects by marrying colors to simple, geometric forms. As he matured, and his color vocabulary changed, Noland increasingly covered the entirety of his canvases with paint, to the point where his lines and colors seemed infinite, and achieved what Greenberg suggested when he wrote: "capable of repeating the picture beyond its frame into infinity."

Advance of History (1964)

By: Mark Tobey

Mark Tobey is one of the lesser-known Abstract Expressionists. Upon first glance, Advance of History almost appears as a tightly wound version of a Pollock "drip" painting. Upon closer inspection, however, an almost decorative pattern emerges that was not prevalent in Pollock's work. Throughout his career, Tobey was renowned for his experimental nature, frequent travel, and fascination with Eastern art and philosophy. As a student of Haiku, Zen, and Japanese calligraphy, among other things, Tobey often took natural forms and elaborate script as his inspiration, and relied on patterns in his paintings as a way of channeling his communion with the natural world.

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The Metropolitan Museum of Art 1870-1970 (1970)

By: Frank Stella

By 1970, Color Field artists like Frank Stella, Kenneth Noland and the late Morris Louis had long established their style as the next phase in modern abstraction. Stella in particular was best known for his Color Field spectrums, in which bands of varying colors were situated in such a way as to render the canvas a three-dimensional field of pure color. What made these paintings unique, and thus a distinctive characteristic of most Color Field work, was the absence of any representation or figurative forms. In Metropolitan Museum of Art 1870-1970, commissioned by the museum for its 100th anniversary, Stella carefully balanced alternating color bands to create a visual plane and framed this plane within a field of primary blue.

Related Movements and Major Works

No. 6 (Violet, Green, Red) (1951)

Movement: Abstract Expressionism (Read Movement Overview, History, and Artworks pages)

Artist: Mark Rothko (Read Full Artist Overview, Biography, and Artworks pages)

Mark Rothko's work exemplifies Abstract Expressionism's Color Field paintings. Each piece is titled by color variations, and all consist of soft, rectangular bands of color stretching horizontally across the canvas. Violet, Green and Red is a prime example of this kind of chromatic abstraction.

Color Field painters were concerned with brushstroke and paint texture, but they came to view color as the most powerful communication tool. Rothko's blocks of color were meant to strike up a relationship with the viewer's deep consciousness, to provide a contemplative, meditative space in which to visually investigate one's own moods and affiliations with the chosen palette. He sought to distill an essence, or true nature, out of codified hues. Along with his friend, the painter Adolph Gottlieb, Rothko wrote a series of statements in 1943 to explain his work. In one, they wrote: "We favor the simple expression of the complex thought."

Hyena Stomp (1962)

Movement: Hard-edge Painting (Read Movement Overview, History, and Artworks pages)

Artist: Frank Stella (Read Full Artist Overview, Biography, and Artworks pages)

Stella was among the New York-based hard-edge painters who caught the attention of Jewish Museum director Alan Solomon, who would later curate the well-received Second-Generation Abstraction in 1963. Hyena Stomp is typical of his move towards color after his famous emergence with the Black Paintings. It balances four converging forms to suggest a complex prism of color; upon closer inspection one notices that the painting is completely asymmetrical.

Dance (1962)

Movement: Post-Painterly Abstraction (Read Movement Overview, History, and Artworks pages)

Artist: John Ferren

California native John Ferren (who was actually older than most of the first-generation AbEx artists) retained elements of what Greenberg called the "Tenth-Street touch." He described this as when "The stroke left by a loaded brush or knife frays out, when the stroke is long enough, into streaks, ripples, and specks of paint. These create variations of light and dark by means of which juxtaposed strokes can be graded into one another without abrupt contrasts." Greenberg criticized the "touch" as a safety net of sorts for those artists having trouble creating a unified image on an abstract plane. However, he praised Ferren's Dance and other similar works for applying the "Tenth-Street touch" and at the same time "boxing it within a large framing area" and managing "to get a new expressiveness from it."

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