Kenneth Noland Life and Art Periods

"I think of painting without subject matter as music without words."

KENNETH NOLAND SYNOPSIS

Kenneth Noland's Color Field painting, which was categorized by Clement Greenberg as belonging to the "Post-Painterly Abstraction" movement, was some of the most focused and consistent art produced in mid-twentieth-century America. After studying under such artists as Ilya Bolotowsky and Josef Albers and working alongside fellow second-generation Color Field abstractionists like Helen Frankenthaler and Morris Louis, Noland developed a signature style based on simplified abstract forms, including targets, chevrons, and stripes. Noland's paintings are characterized by strikingly minimalist compositions of shape and color. In this regard, Noland's art has influenced a wide range of contemporary abstractionists who continue to experiment with highly simplified forms and pure saturated color.

KENNETH NOLAND KEY IDEAS

Noland's concentric circles were not targets, the diagonals of his chevrons did not indicate receding space, and his broad horizontal stripes were decidedly not literal horizons. Each was solely a means of exploring pure color. This reductive approach also foreshadowed the emergence of Minimalism.
Noland applied Josef Albers's theory of "the interaction of colors" to his own compositions, which explore the relationships between contrasting or complementary colors; painted in thin yet opaque layers, each tone reveals its particular characteristic weight, density, and transparency.
As a member of the Color Field contingent that practiced hard-edge abstraction, Noland was interested in removing all texture, gesture, and emotional content from his paintings. He even executed some works on shaped canvases that were filled by their compositions from edge to edge, leaving no marginal space for suggestions of depth or background. In these shaped works, the viewer no longer looks "into" the picture; instead, the work of art coexists in the viewer's space as a complete object.
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MOST IMPORTANT ART

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.
Oil and enamel paint on canvas - Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.
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KENNETH NOLAND BIOGRAPHY

Childhood

Kenneth Noland was born on April 10, 1924 in Asheville, North Carolina, one of five sons of Harry Caswell Noland and Bessie Noland. Noland's father was a physician; Noland later described him as a "Sunday painter," an amateur artist who painted in his spare time. Having access to his father's brushes, paints, and canvases, the young Noland played and experimented with these materials, which instilled in him a love of painting and the visual arts. Another early influence was an exhibition of Monet's paintings that he viewed at the National Gallery in Washington, D.C.

After graduating from 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 in Asheville. The highly experimental school was important to many young artists at this time because of its interdisciplinary approach to art education. Its faculty (which included notables like Willem de Kooning and John Cage) insisted that every student receive a comprehensive education in everything from dance and musical composition to sculpture and easel painting.

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Early Training

At Black Mountain College, Ilya Bolotowsky introduced Noland to the Neo-Plasticism and geometric abstraction of Piet Mondrian, while Bauhaus artist Josef Albers acquainted him with the work of Paul Klee. Noland paid close attention to Klee's subtle nuances of color combined with bold contrasts of positive and negative space, which eventually informed Noland's own art. In later years Noland credited Albers as the most influential of all his former instructors, particularly in his teachings on the interaction of color.

In 1948, after two years at Black Mountain, Noland traveled to Paris and studied under the Russian sculptor Ossip Zadkine. Noland would eventually rebel against Zadkine's Cubist teachings, opting for radically simplified color and form. In 1949 he had his first one-man show at the Galerie Raymond Creuze in Paris.

After a year abroad, Noland returned to the United States and began his teaching career. He taught at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Washington, D.C. from 1949 to 1951, then at Catholic University (also in D.C.) from 1951 to 1960. He also taught at the Washington Workshop Center for the Arts from 1952 to 1956.

While living in D.C., Noland met and befriended fellow painter Morris Louis. At this time both men were painting in an Abstract Expressionist style, although neither artist was considered a member of the so-called first generation of Abstract Expressionist artists that centered in New York City. In 1951, he married Cornelia Langer, the daughter of a United States senator. The marriage would end in divorce, as did his second and third marriages: he was wed to Stephanie Gordon in 1967 and to Peggy Schiffer in 1970.

Kenneth Noland Biography

In 1952 or 1953, the critic Clement Greenberg escorted Noland and Louis to the New York studio of Helen Frankenthaler to view her recently completed Mountains and Sea (1952). At the time, Frankenthaler was using a unique technique of pouring oil paints onto unprimed canvas, allowing the medium to soak into its support rather than just dry on the surface. Viewing this technique marked a major turning point in Noland's career as an artist. Following this studio visit, Noland decided to abandon any tendencies to paint in the Abstract Expressionist style and began work on a new set of paintings: the so-called Targets (c. late 1950s-60s). These paintings, also called Circles, were his breakthrough works. In 1958 he began applying a variety of colors to a basic circle template centered on a square canvas, creating a burst of concentric circles rendered in complementary colors that contrasted sharply against the neutral background of the square support.

Mature Period

In the early 1960s, Noland's exploration of color relationships grew increasingly bold and ambitious. In his earlier, less refined Target paintings, heavier color forms had been placed against a white or off-white backdrop. By 1962 Noland began to experiment with colored backdrops and cleaner edges. He also began making the innermost circles, rather than the outer layers, the visual focal point of the composition.

By 1963 Noland had concluded that he had exhausted the possibilities of his "circles in a square" format. He wanted to continue to experiment with colors and their interactions, but he needed a different theme with which to work. For the next phase of his career he began his Chevron paintings (1960s), an even more simple and minimalist series of abstract imagery.

In 1964 Clement Greenberg curated an exhibition of new art at the Los Angeles Country Museum of Art, including works by Noland as well as by Jules Olitski, Helen Frankenthaler, Ellsworth Kelly, Jack Bush, Frank Stella, Morris Louis, and various others. Attempting to formally categorize this emerging post-Abstract Expressionist art, Greenberg dubbed this group's work "Post-Painterly Abstraction."

Later that year, Noland was selected to participate in a show entitled "Four Germinal Painters" at the United States Pavilion of the 32nd Venice Biennale. In that installation, a number of Noland's works from his Targets and Chevrons series hung alongside paintings by Morris Louis, Jasper Johns, and Robert Rauschenberg.

In the early 1960s, Noland began dividing his time between New York and a farm in Vermont. In Vermont he met and became lifelong friends with the artists Jules Olitski and Anthony Caro, with whom he shared certain abstractionist values.

In the late 1960s, Noland's approach to Color Field painting grew even more reductive, but no less bold. Having run through multiple permutations of both the target and chevron format for the time being, Noland switched to using rectangular canvases and horizontal lines in a new series he called Stripes (1967-70). In his Targets and Chevrons, the artist tended to juxtapose color bands of equal width and to impose some form of axial symmetry on the canvas, leaving portions of unprimed canvas blank in contrast to the color. None of these features occur in Noland's Stripes. Instead, Noland began playing with scale, color, and form on new levels. He reduced his compositions to a basic formula: parallel horizontal lines of varying widths and colors, running along the entire width of the canvas.

Late Years and Death

Kenneth Noland Portrait

In the 1970s and 1980s, Noland made a brief return to chevrons, experimented with color compositions in plaid-like patterns, and, perhaps most importantly, produced several differently shaped canvases. He also made a brief return to teaching, and in 1985 he 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 (c. 1999-2002), which was in many respects a return to his beginnings as a formalist abstractionist of the late 1950s. Using acrylics on paper and unprimed canvas, he once again painted symmetrical circular targets on square supports. His new Targets, much like the older ones, were as visually bold as they were deliberately void of subject; however, he wanted to reaffirm their relevancy as the new millennium approached.

Noland died in 2010, at the age of 85. He had lived much of his late life in a quiet community in Maine, where he worked in his studio until his final days. He was survived by his fourth wife, Paige Rense, as well as three children from his first marriage and a son from his third marriage. He was honored shortly after his death by a memorial presentation at the Guggenheim Museum.

KENNETH NOLAND LEGACY

Combining the geometric abstraction of Mondrian and the color interactions of Albers with the spiritual ambiguity of Mark Rothko and Barnett Newman, Noland created abstractions comprised of pure colors, shapes, and lines to create contrast and energy on the canvas, while eventually removing all gestural traces or references to the external world. In this artistic enterprise he shared a mutual influence with his contemporaries Al Held, Ellsworth Kelly, and David Smith, as well as other Washington Color School artists like Anne Truitt and Gene Davis. His flat, starkly simple compositions helped to pave the way for Minimalism and for artists like Frank Stella, Donald Judd, and Robert Irwin, as well as for the Neo Geo movement's ironic revival of flat, geometrical compositions in the 1980s. Noland's art also exercised a continuing influence on a later generation of Washington, D.C. painters working in various modes of abstraction.

Original content written by Justin Wolf
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KENNETH NOLAND 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."

Kenneth Noland

Kenneth Noland Influences

Interactive chart with Kenneth Noland's main influencers, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.

CLICK TO EXPAND

Kenneth Noland BOOKS AND ONLINE RESOURCES

Books
Websites
Articles
Videos
The books and articles below constitute a bibliography of the sources used in the writing this page. These also suggest some accessible resources for further research, especially ones that can be found and purchased via the internet.
biography
Kenneth Noland: The Nature Of Color

By Alison de Lima Greene, Karen Wilkin, and Peter Marzio

Kenneth Noland

By Kenworth Moffett

Kenneth Noland (20th Century Artists)

By Karen Wilkin

Kenneth Noland

By Mark Dagley
The Brooklyn Rail
February 3, 2010

Kenneth Noland, Abstract Painter of Brilliantly Colored Shapes, Dies at 85

By William Grimes
The New York Times
January 6, 2010

Ken Noland, American Color Field Painter

By Terry Fenton
The Examiner
January 6, 2010

No Message, No Story: The Color's About Color

By Grace Glueck
The New York Times
September 6, 2002

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Paul Klee
Paul Klee
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.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Paul Klee
Ossip Zadkine
Ossip Zadkine
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.

Modern Art Information Ossip Zadkine
Piet Mondrian
Piet Mondrian
Piet Mondrian, a founding member of the De Stijl movement, was a modern Dutch artist who used grids, perpendicular lines, and the three primary colors in what he deemed Neo-plasticism.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Piet Mondrian
Ilya Bolotowsky
Ilya Bolotowsky
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 Mark Rothko and Adolph 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.

Modern Art Information Ilya Bolotowsky
Josef Albers
Josef Albers
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 Robert Rauschenberg, Cy Twombly and Ray Johnson.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Josef Albers
Barnett Newman
Barnett Newman
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.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Barnett Newman
Clement Greenberg
Clement Greenberg
Clement Greenberg was one the leading American art critics during the twentieth 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 Jackson Pollock, Clyfford Still and Hans Hofmann.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Clement Greenberg
Morris Louis
Morris Louis
Morris Louis was an American painter and an original member of the so-called Washington Color School. Along with Kenneth Noland, Helen 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.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Morris Louis
Helen Frankenthaler
Helen Frankenthaler
Helen Frankenthaler was an American abstract painter in mid-twentieth-century New York. Along with Morris Louis and Kenneth Noland, Frankenthaler is considered a pioneer in the practice of Color Field painting.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Helen Frankenthaler
David Smith
David Smith
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.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information David Smith
Suprematism
Suprematism
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.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Suprematism
Bauhaus
Bauhaus
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.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Bauhaus
Abstract Expressionism
Abstract Expressionism
A tendency among New York painters of the late 1940s and '50s, all of whom were committed to an expressive art of profound emotion and universal themes. The movement embraced 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 postwar mood of anxiety and trauma.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Abstract Expressionism
Neo-Plasticism
Neo-Plasticism
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.

Modern Art Information Neo-Plasticism
Frank Stella
Frank Stella
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.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Frank Stella
Ellsworth Kelly
Ellsworth Kelly
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.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Ellsworth Kelly
Jules Olitski
Jules Olitski
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.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Jules Olitski
Robert Irwin
Robert Irwin
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.

Modern Art Information Robert Irwin
Donald Judd
Donald Judd
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.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Donald Judd
Michael Fried
Michael Fried
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.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Michael Fried
Rosalind Krauss
Rosalind Krauss
Rosalind Krauss is an American art critic and philosopher. Originally a disciple of formalist critic Clement Greenberg, Krauss later founded the radicalist journal October, and became an important proponent of postmodern art theory.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Rosalind Krauss
Washington Color School
Washington Color School
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.

Modern Art Information Washington Color School
Hard-edge Painting
Hard-edge Painting
Hard-edge painting, emerging in the 1950s and '60s, departed from the gesture and scrawl of Abstract Expressionism to favor blocks of color with well-defined edges.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Hard-edge Painting
Color Field Painting
Color Field Painting
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.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Color Field Painting
Post-Painterly Abstraction
Post-Painterly Abstraction
Post-painterly abstraction was a term developed by critic Clement Greenberg in 1964 to describe a diverse range of abstract painters who rejected the gestural styles of the Abstract Expressionists and favored instead what he called "openness or clarity." Painters as different as Ellsworth Kelly and Helen Frankenthaler were described by the term. Some employed geometric form, others veils of stained color.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Post-Painterly Abstraction
Minimalism
Minimalism
Minimalism emerged as a movement in New York in the 1960s, its leading figures creating objects which blurred the boundaries between painting and sculpture, and were characterized by unitary, geometric forms and industrial materials. Emphasizing cool anonymity over the passionate expression of the previous generation of painters, the Minimalists attempted to avoid metaphorical associations, symbolism, and suggestions of spiritual transcendence.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Minimalism
Willem de Kooning
Willem de Kooning
Willem de Kooning, a Dutch immigrant to New York, was one of the foremost Abstract Expressionist painters. His abstract compositions drew on Surrealist and figurative traditions, and typified the expressionistic 'gestural' style of the New York School.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Willem de Kooning
John Cage
John Cage
John Cage was an American composer and conceptual artist who incorporated chance, silence, and environmental effects into his performances. An important art theorist, he influenced choreographers, musicians, and the Fluxus artists of the 1970s.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information John Cage
Cubism
Cubism
Cubism was developed by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque between 1907-1911, and it continued to be highly influential long after its decline. This classic phase has two stages: 'Analytic', in which forms seem to be 'analyzed' and fragmented; and 'Synthetic', in which pre-existing materials such as newspaper and wood veneer are collaged to the surface of the canvas.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Cubism
Jack Bush
Jack Bush
Jack Bush was a Canadian painter who came to prominence in the 1960s and 70s. Initially a practitioner of abstraction, Bush developed a lasting friendship with critic Clement Greenberg, who closely mentored Bush's artistic maturation. Bush's best known works were in the style of color-field painting and Post-painterly abstraction, of which he was a major figure.

Modern Art Information Jack Bush
Jasper Johns
Jasper Johns
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.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Jasper Johns
Robert Rauschenberg
Robert Rauschenberg
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.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Robert Rauschenberg
Anthony Caro
Anthony Caro
Sir Anthony Alfred Caro is an English abstract sculptor whose work famously incorporates found industrial objects, or what has been called "junk sculpture." Caro's non-objective sculpture was heavily influenced by the work of David Smith in the 1950s. Caro showed at the 1966 Primary Structures exhibition at the Jewish Museum. His work has also been categorized as Minimalist and Conceptual.

Modern Art Information Anthony Caro
Mark Rothko
Mark Rothko
Mark Rothko was an Abstract Expressionist painter whose early interest in mythic landscapes gave way to mature works featuring large, hovering blocks of color on colored grounds.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Mark Rothko
Al Held
Al Held
Al Held was an American painter and a leading figure in the second generation of Abstract Expressionists. Held's paintings are considered to be in the style of 'Hard-Edge' and 'Post-painterly abstraction.' Held achieved both acclaim and criticism for his experiments with black and white imagery, or what he called "spatial conundrums."

Modern Art Information Al Held
Anne Truitt
Anne Truitt
Anne Truitt is an American artist best known for her large scale wooden sculptures covered in many coats of paint.

Modern Art Information Anne Truitt
Gene Davis
Gene Davis
Gene Davis is an American artist best known for his paintings consisting of vertical stripes of color.

Modern Art Information Gene Davis
Tiger Lilies
Tiger Lilies

Title: Tiger Lilies (1953)

Artwork Description & Analysis: 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.


Oil and enamel paint on canvas - Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.

Ex-Nihilo
Ex-Nihilo

Title: Ex-Nihilo (1958)

Artwork Description & Analysis: 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.


Magna on canvas - Private collection

Beginnings
Beginnings

Title: Beginnings (1958)

Artwork Description & Analysis: 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.


Magna on canvas - Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.

Birth
Birth

Title: Birth (1961)

Artwork Description & Analysis: 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.


Oil on canvas - Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York

Shoot
Shoot

Title: Shoot (1964)

Artwork Description & Analysis: 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.


Acrylic on canvas - Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.

Bend Sinister
Bend Sinister

Title: Bend Sinister (1964)

Artwork Description & Analysis: 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.


Acrylic on canvas - Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.

Graded Exposure
Graded Exposure

Title: Graded Exposure (1967)

Artwork Description & Analysis: 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.


Acrylic on canvas - Private Collection

Vault
Vault

Title: Vault (1976)

Artwork Description & Analysis: 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.


Acrylic on canvas

Bibliography
The books and articles below constitute a bibliography of the sources used in the writing this page. These also suggest some accessible resources for further research, especially ones that can be found and purchased via the internet.