SynopsisKenneth Noland's art can be categorized as Color Field painting, or as part of "Post-Painterly Abstraction" movement, but Noland's body of work demonstrates so much more. After studying under the likes of Bolotowsky and Albers, and working alongside fellow second-generation abstractionists like Frankenthaler and Louis, Noland created several signature styles of abstract imagery. These styles were comprised of targets, chevrons, striped patterns and shaped canvases. Noland's paintings are characterized by reduced, minimalist and strikingly simple compositions of line and color. In this regard, Noland's art has influenced a wide range of contemporary abstractionists who continue to experiment with ultra-simplified forms in order to tap into basic human emotions.
ChildhoodKenneth Noland was born and raised in Asheville, North Carolina. His father was what Noland later described as a "Sunday painter," an amateur artist who painted in his spare time. Having access to brushes, paints and canvas, Noland played and experimented with these materials as a young boy, which instilled in him a love of painting and the visual arts.
After graduating high school in 1942, Noland enlisted in the U.S. Air Force following the United States' entry into World War II. He returned from his military service nearly four years later. In 1946, he took advantage of the G.I. Bill by enrolling at Black Mountain College, which was conveniently located approximately 20 miles from Noland's childhood home. The highly experimental Black Mountain College was important to many young artists at this time because of its interdisciplinary approach to art education. Its faculty insisted that every student receive a comprehensive education in everything from dance and choreography to sculpture and easel painting.
Early TrainingAt Black Mountain, Professor Ilya Bolotowsky introduced Noland to the neo-plastics and geometric abstraction of Piet Mondrian, while Bauhaus artist Josef Albers introduced him to the work of Paul Klee. Noland paid very close attention to Klee's subtle nuances of color combined with bold contrasts of positive and negative space, which eventually informed his own art. In later years Noland credited Albers above all his other former instructors as the most influential, particularly with regards to his teachings on the interaction of color.
In 1948, after two years at Black Mountain, Noland traveled to Paris and studied under the Cubist Russian sculptor Ossip Zadkine. Noland would eventually rebel against Zadkine's teachings, opting for ultra-simplified color and form rather than a Cubist's preference for painting contrasts of light and shadow.
After a year in Paris, Noland returned to the U.S. and began his teaching career. He first taught at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Washington, D.C. from1949-1951, followed by a much longer tenure at Catholic University (also in D.C.) from 1951-1960. He also taught at the Washington Workshop Center for the Arts from 1952-1956.
While living in D.C., Noland met and befriended fellow painter Morris Louis. At this time both men were painting in the Abstract Expressionist style, although neither Noland nor Louis were considered members of the so-called first generation of Abstract Expressionist artists.
Although the exact date is not known, some time during 1952 or '53, critic Clement Greenberg escorted Noland and Louis to the New York studio of Helen Frankenthaler (with whom Greenberg was romantically involved) to view her recently completed Mountains and Sea (1952). Frankenthaler used a unique painting technique of pouring oils onto unprimed canvas, allowing the paints to soak in rather than just dry on the surface. Viewing Mountains and Sea color-field painting technique marked a major turning point in Noland's career as a artist. Following this studio visit, Noland decided to abandon any tendencies to paint in the Abstract Expressionist style and began work on a set of color-field paintings for which he would become best known: the Targets.
TargetsKenneth Noland's Target paintings, alternatively called Circles, were undoubtedly his breakthrough works. In 1958 he began applying a variety of color to a basic circle template positioned on a square canvas, often creating a burst of concentric circles rendered in complementary colors, which contrasted well against the square support.
Another interesting feature of Noland's early Targets, painted between 1958 and 1960, was the presence of a smeared, almost jagged outer edge that framed the inner circles, suggesting a final burst of seemingly infinite color, stretching outward into the cosmos.
As the 1960s commenced, Noland's use of color grew increasingly bold and ambitious. In his earlier, less refined Target paintings, heavier color forms were situated against a white or off-white backdrop. By 1962 Noland began to experiment with colored backdrops and cleaner dividing lines between each circle. He also began making the innermost point of his circles the visual focal point rather than the outer layers.
ChevronsBy 1963, Noland had concluded that his 'circles in a square' format was exhausted and it was time for something new. Noland wanted to continue to experiment with colors and their interactions with one another, but he needed a different format with which to work. The Chevron series was his next phase as an artist, growing increasingly simple and minimalist with his abstract imagery.
In 1964 Clement Greenberg was curating an exhibit of new art at the Los Angeles Country Museum of Art. This show was Greenberg's personal attempt at formally categorizing post-Abstract Expressionist art forms. In addition to Noland, Greenberg selected works by Jules Olitski, Helen Frankenthaler, Ellsworth Kelly, Jack Bush, Frank Stella, Morris Louis, with various others, dubbing this new stage in fine abstract art "Post-Painterly Abstraction."
Later that same year, Noland was selected to participate in a show entitled Four Germinal Painters at the U.S. Pavilion of the 32nd Venice Biennale. Many of Noland's Targets and Chevrons sat alongside paintings by Louis, and .
StripesIn the late 1960s, Noland's approach to Color Field painting grew even simpler, but no less bold. Having exhausted the possibilities and permutations of both the target and chevron format for the time being, Noland settled on a rectangular canvas support and began covering the entire canvas with horizontal bands of color.
Of the three major stylistic phases in Noland's early career, his Stripes paintings are perhaps the most daring in their stark simplicity. In earlier phases, he tended to juxtapose color bands of equal width, incorporate some form of symmetry on the canvas, leaving portions of unprimed canvas blank as a stark contrast to the color. None of these features are found with most of Noland's Stripe paintings. Instead, Noland began playing with scale and color as form on new levels. He reduced his compositions to a basic formula: horizontal lines of color interacting with each other, often without regard for pattern or uniformity.
Later YearsIn 1977, Noland was honored with his very first retrospective exhibition at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. The exhibit subsequently traveled to the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C., which today houses one of the more impressive permanent collections of Noland's paintings anywhere in the world.
Throughout the 1970s and 80s, Noland made a brief return to chevrons, experimented with color compositions in the form of plaids, and perhaps most importantly, produced several shaped canvases. He also made a brief return to teaching, and in 1985 took an appointment as the Milton Avery Professor of the Arts at Bard College.
In 1999, Noland began work on his Mysteries series of paintings, which was in many respects a return to his beginnings as a formalist abstractionist in the late 1950s. Using acrylics on both paper and unprimed canvas, he was once again creating symmetrical targets on square supports. These paintings were for Noland a return to his roots as well as symbolic gestures. His new Targets, much like the older ones, were as visually bold as they were contextually meaningless, however, he wanted to reaffirm their relevancy as the new millennium approached.
LegacyKenneth Noland's legacy is that of an artist who took - a movement renowned for its simplicity - and simplified it further. Combining the geometric abstraction of Mondrian and the color interactions of Albers with the spiritual ambiguity of Rothko and Newman, Noland has created abstractions comprised of pure forms, wherein any meaning or context is left entirely to the viewer's discretion. His intention as a painter has been to use the simplest of colors, shapes and lines to create movement on the canvas, to the point where they are living, albeit very basic, primitive life forms.
Below are Kenneth Noland's major influences, and the people and ideas that he influenced in turn.
Years Worked: 1953 - present
Quotes"I think of painting without subject matter as music without words."
"With artists of my own generation there was at first no group identity - and never a clique."
"As time goes on, I realize more and more that, beginning in the early '30s, David Smith began setting the precedent for what was to come later for many of us."
WHERE TO SEE WORKS:
Museum of Modern Artwww.MoMA.org
Metropolitan Museum of Artwww.METmuseum.org
Written about NolandKenneth Noland: The Nature Of Color
Kenneth Noland (20th Century Artists)
PaintingsKenneth Noland: Paintings 1958-1989
Kenneth Noland: A Retrospective : The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York
Kenneth Noland: Themes and variations, 1958-2000
Kenneth Noland: The Circle Paintings 1956-1963
Kenneth Noland: Monotypes, Barcelona 1984
ART REVIEW; No Message, No Story: The Color's About Color
By Grace Glueck
September 6, 2002
The New York Times
Kenneth Noland: Circles
By Daniel Kunitz
Kenneth Noland at Ameringer/Howard - Acrylic Painting
By Jonathan Goodman
Art in America
The Power of 'Cool'
By Ken Greenleaf
May 18, 2009
The Boston Phoenix
Websites about Artist
By Terry Fenton
|Clement Greenberg was one the leading American art critics during the 20th century. Best known as the ideological counterpart to Harold Rosenberg, Greenberg was a formalist who coined the terms "American-type painting" and 'Post-painterly abstraction.' He was a staunch champion of pure abstraction, including the work of Pollock, Still and Hofmann.
ArtStory: Clement Greenberg Page
|Jasper Johns is an American artist who rose to prominence in the late 1950s for his multi-media constructions, dubbed by critics as Neo-Dada. Johns' work, including his world-famous targets and American flags series, were important predecessors to Pop art.
ArtStory: Jasper Johns Page
|Robert Rauschenberg, a key figure in early Pop Art, admired the textural quality of Abstract Expressionism but scorned its emotional pathos. His famous "Combines" are part sculpture, part painting, and part installation.
ArtStory: Robert Rauschenberg Page
|A tendency among New York painters of the late 1940s and 1950s, all of whom were committed to an expressive art of profound emotion and universal themes. The movement embraces the gestural abstraction of Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock, and the color field painting of Mark Rothko and others. It blended elements of Surrealism and abstract art in an effort to create a new style fitted to the post-war mood of anxiety and trauma.
ArtStory: Abstract Expressionism Page
|The Swiss-born painter Paul Klee worked in a variety of styles, including expressionism, geometric abstraction, and collage. His most famous works have a mystical quality and make use of linear and pictorial symbols.
ArtStory: Paul Klee Page
|Ossip Zadkine was a Russian painter and sculptor. After studying art in London, Zadkine moved to Paris in 1910 and became involved in the Cubism movement with the likes of Picasso and Braque.
|Piet Mondrian, a founding member of the De Stijl movement, was a Dutch modern artist who used grids, perpendicular lines, and the three primary colors in what he deemed "Neoplastic" painting.
ArtStory: Piet Mondrian Page
|Ilya Bolotowsky was a Russian-born American artist and long-time instructor at Black Mountain College. After immigrating to the U.S. in 1923, he became a member of "The Ten," along with artists Rothko and Gottlieb, and later on was a founding member of The American Abstract Artists. His work contributed greatly to the styles of Neo-Plasticism and Geometric Abstraction.
|Josef Albers was a German-born American painter and teacher. Celebrated as a geometric abstractionist and influential instructor at Black Mountain College, Albers directly influenced such artists as Rauschenberg, Twombly and Ray Johnson.
ArtStory: Josef Albers Page
|Barnett Newman was an Abstract Expressonist painter in New York who painted large-scale fields of solid color, interrupted by vertical lines or "zips." His sometimes narrow or boxy canvases, part painting and part sculpture, were influential for Minimalism.
ArtStory: Barnett Newman Page
|Morris Louis was an American painter and an original member of the so-called Washington Color School. Along with Noland, Frankenthaler and others, Louis pioneered the color-field school of painting, using a technique of soaking heavy oil paints into unprimed canvases. Louis's paintings in part inspired his friend Clement Greenberg to dub the second-generation Abstract Expressionism artists Post-painterly abstraction.
ArtStory: Morris Louis Page
|Helen Frankenthaler was an American abstract painter in mid-20th-century New York. Along with Morris Louis and Kenneth Noland, Frankenthaler is considered a pioneer in the practice of color-field painting.
ArtStory: Helen Frankenthaler Page
|David Smith was an American artist who combined Surrealism and formal abstraction in his sculptures. His early works, small and with a craft-like aesthetic, give way later on to giant constructions of welded and burnished steel.
ArtStory: David Smith Page
|Suprematism, the invention of Russian artist Kazimir Malevich, was one of the earliest and most radical developments in abstract art. Inspired by a desire to experiment with the language of abstract form, and to isolate art's barest essentials, its artists produced austere abstractions that seemed almost mystical. It was an important influence on Constructivism.
ArtStory: Suprematism Page
|Bauhaus is a style associated with the Bauhaus school, an extremely influential art and design school in Weimar Germany that emphasized functionality and efficiency of design. Its famous faculty - including Joseph Albers and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe - generally rejected distinctions between the fine and applied arts, and encouraged major advances in industrial design.
ArtStory: Bauhaus Page
|Neo-Plasticism was the guiding philosophy behind the art of Dutch painter Piet Mondrian and many of his peers in the De Stijl circle. Articulated by Mondrian in 1917-18, the approach stipulates the strict use of only horizontal and vertical lines; the primary colors red, yellow, and blue; and white, gray, and black.
|Frank Stella is an American artist whose geometric paintings and shaped canvases underscore the idea of the painting as object. A major influence on Minimalism, his iconic works include nested black and white stripes and concentric, angular half-circles in bright colors.
ArtStory: Frank Stella Page
|Ellsworth Kelly is an American color-field and hard-edge painter. Kelly got his start in the late-1950s with showings at the Betty Parsons Gallery and the Whitney Museum. His work often consists of shaped canvases, simple geometric shapes, and large panels of uniform color.
ArtStory: Ellsworth Kelly Page
|Jules Olitski was a Russian-born American painter and key figure in the mid-century movements of color-field painting and Post-painterly abstraction. Olitski is most famous for his innovation of painting using multiple spray guns, applied to unprimed and unstretched canvases.
ArtStory: Jules Olitski Page
|Robert Irwin is an American painter, sculptor, landscape architect and installation artist. Coming of age during the Abstract Expressionist years in New York, Irwin remained in his native Los Angeles and devoted himself to creating largely experiential art, such as the Central Garden at Los Angeles' Getty Center.
|Donald Judd was an early and influential Minimalist artist who made large-scale geometric objects, often of industrial materials and serially arranged on the floor or wall. He helped found the Chinati Foundation in Marfa, Texas, where many key works of Minimalism are installed.
ArtStory: Donald Judd Page
|Michael Fried is an American art critic and historian who gained acclaim for his ideas on "theatricality" in art. Fried applied this idea to the artistic style Minimalism, which he believed negatively blurred the boundaries between natural art forms and non-art objects.
ArtStory: Michael Fried Page
|The Washington Color School refers to a group of Color-field painters who exhibited together at the Washington Gallery of Modern Art in 1965. Their work is marked by the presence of color areas and washes, geometric designs, and even surfaces.
|Formalist Abstraction was a loosely-defined submovement of Abstract Expressionism and Post-painterly abstraction. Championed by critic Clement Greenberg, the formalist abstractionists tended to work in the pure medium of oils and canvas, and employed very basic formal elements in their paintings, constructing abstract imagery out of simple shapes, lines and archetypal symbols.
ArtStory: Formalist Abstraction Page
|Hard-edge painting, emerging in the 1950s and 60s, departs from the gesture and scrawl of Abstract Expressionism to favor blocks of color with well-defined edges.
ArtStory: Hard-edge Painting Page
|A tendency within Abstract Expressionism, distinct from gestural abstraction, color field painting was developed by Barnett Newman, Mark Rothko, and Clyfford Still in the late 1940s, and developed further by Helen Frankenthaler and others. It is characterized by large fields of color and an absence of any figurative motifs, and often expresses a yearning for transcendence and the infinite.
ArtStory: Color Field Painting Page