Progression of Art
Pancho Villa, Dead and Alive
Pancho Villa, Dead and Alive is a direct reference to a photograph that Motherwell encountered of the murdered revolutionary, Pancho Villa. The work straddles the line between referential painting and the style that would become Abstract Expressionism, and includes several thematic relationships that appear throughout the artist's oeuvre. In its allusion to the Mexican revolution, this work also prefigures the themes that would drive Motherwell's seminal Elegy to the Spanish Republic series.
Gouache and oil with cut-and-pasted paper on cardboard - The Museum of Modern Art, New York
At Five in the Afternoon
At Five in the Afternoon began as a small pen and ink drawing that Motherwell composed in 1948 to accompany a poem by Harold Rosenberg. A year later, Motherwell reinvented the drawing as a small painting and renamed the work after a line in the poem "Lament for Ignacio Sanchez Mejias," by Federico Garcia Lorca. This work acts as the first entry in Motherwell's Elegies to the Spanish Republic series and sets up a formal and aesthetic system that would define the entire series.
Casein on Composition board - Collection, Helen Frankenthaler, New York
Je t'aime No.2
Je t'aime No.2 serves as a prime example of Motherwell's second significant series of paintings, which he composed between 1953 and 1957, as his second marriage came to an end. The work exhibits energetic, emotionally charged brushwork, bright, evocative colors, and the artist's trademark ovoid and rectilinear forms. Written across the canvas is the French phrase "Je t'aime," ("I love you") an allusion to the lasting influence of Gallic culture on Motherwell's work, and, no doubt, a reference to the artist's personal anxieties during this time.
Oil on canvas - Collection, Mr. And Mrs. Gilbert Harrison, New York
Elegy to the Spanish Republic No. 110
Elegy to the Spanish Republic No. 110 is part of a series comprising more than 140 paintings, which Motherwell worked on throughout his long career. The series functioned as the artist's memorial to the Spanish Civil War, an event that had come to symbolize for him the human tragedies of oppression and injustice. No. 110 is typical in its stark black and white palette, and interplay of ovoid and bar-like rectilinear forms. What exactly those forms are intended to mean, though, has been the subject of great debate. Some compare them to architecture, or to ancient monuments, while others read them as phalluses and wombs, which, along with the pictures' somber palette, might suggest the cycle of life and death.
Acrylic with pencil and charcoal on canvas - Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York
The Blue Painting Lesson: A Study in Painterly Logic, number one of five
The Blue Painting Lesson: A Study in Painterly, is part of a group of works composed between 1968 and 1972, known as the Opens series. It shares a simple but powerful formal construct with the rest of the series: a densely colored, almost monochromatic background highlighted by a two or three-sided box that enters the canvas from the top of the composition. This box is an abstract reference to the window views seen in the work of many European masters, and may also refer to the intersection of internal and external worlds in the life of the artist.
Oil on canvas - Collection, Dedalus Foundation, New York
Tobacco Roth-Handle is a synthesis of collage and printmaking techniques - two important strains in Motherwell's work. The central identifiable image in the print, a cigarette wrapper, is a personal reference; it is typical of the sort of ephemera from the artist's daily life that had begun to find its way into Motherwell's collages by the 1960s. Regarding his collages, Motherwell once said, "The part of my vocabulary that is not from inner pressure, but that is drawn from the external world, is from the social world. To pick up a cigarette wrapper or a wine label or an old letter or the end of a carton is my way of dealing with those things that do not originate in me, in my I."
Four-color lithograph and screenprint on HMP handmade paper - Walker Art Center, Minneapolis