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The Art Story Homepage Artists Barnett Newman
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Barnett Newman

American Painter

Movements and Styles: Abstract Expressionism, Color Field Painting, Action Painting, The Sublime in Art

Born: January 29, 1905 - New York, New York

Died: July 4, 1970 - New York, New York

Barnett Newman Timeline

"I hope that my painting has the impact of giving someone, as it did me, the feeling of his own totality, of his own separateness, of his own individuality."

Barnett Newman Signature

Summary of Barnett Newman

Newman shared the Abstract Expressionists' interests in myth and the primitive unconscious, but the huge fields of color and trademark "zips" in his pictures set him apart from the gestural abstraction of many of his peers. The response to his mature work, even from friends, was muted when he first exhibited it. It was not until later in his career that he began to receive acclaim, and he would subsequently become a touchstone for both Minimalists and a second generation of Color Field painters. Commenting on one of Newman's exhibitions in 1959, critic Thomas B. Hess wrote, "he changed in about a year's time from an outcast or a crank into the father figure of two generations."

Key Ideas

Newman believed that the modern world had rendered traditional art subjects and styles invalid, especially in the post-World War II years shadowed by conflict, fear, and tragedy. Newman wrote: "old standards of beauty were irrelevant: the sublime was all that was appropriate - an experience of enormity which might lift modern humanity out of its torpor."
Newman's pictures were a decisive break with the gestural abstraction of his peers. Instead, he devised an approach that avoided painting's conventional oppositions of figure and ground. He created a symbol, the "zip," which might reach out and invoke the viewer standing before it - the viewer fired with the spark of life.
He thought that humans had a primal drive to create, and one could find expressions of the same instincts and yearnings locked in ancient art as one would find in modern art. He saw artists, and himself, as the creators of the world.
Barnett Newman's <i>Vir Heroicus Sublimis</i> at the Museum of Modern Art, New York City
Barnett Newman's Vir Heroicus Sublimis at the Museum of Modern Art, New York City

Saying "A painter is a choreographer of space," Barnett Newman invented what he called the "zip," a band of vertical color. Thus he led Abstract Expressionism and Color Field Painting, impacted related movements, while also being an inspiring art theorist.

Important Art by Barnett Newman

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

Onement I (1948)
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Onement I (1948)

Artwork description & Analysis: Newman saw Onement I as a breakthrough in his work. It features the first full incarnation of what he later called a "zip," a vertical band of color. This motif would play a central role in many of his subsequent paintings. The painting's title is an archaic derivation of the word "atonement," meaning, "the state of being made into one." For Newman, this unevenly painted zip on a flat field of color does not divide the canvas; rather, it merges both sides, drawing in the audience to intensely experience the work both physically and emotionally. Some have compared the zips to Alberto Giacometti's slender figures, reinforcing Newman's own connections between his paintings and the viewer's body.

Oil on canvas and oil on masking tape on canvas - The Museum of Modern Art, New York

Vir heroicus sublimis (1950-51)
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Vir heroicus sublimis (1950-51)

Artwork description & Analysis: Translated as "Man, heroic and sublime," Vir heroicus sublimis was, at 95 by 213 inches, Newman's largest painting at the time it was completed, although he would go on to create even more expansive works. He intended his audiences to view this and other large paintings from a close vantage point, allowing the colors and zips to fully surround them. In this piece, which is more complex than it initially appears, Newman's zips are variously solid or wavering, creating a perfect square in the center and asymmetrical spaces on the perimeter. Mel Bochner, an artist associated with Conceptualism, remembered encountering it at the Museum of Modern Art in the late 1960s and realizing that its scale and color created a new kind of contact between the artwork and the viewer. "A woman standing there [looking at it]...was covered with red," he recalled. "I realized it was the light shining on the painting reflecting back, filling the space between the viewer and the artwork that created the space, the place. And that that reflection of the self of the painting, the painting as the subject reflected on the viewer, was a wholly new category of experience."

Oil on canvas - The Museum of Modern Art, New York

The Wild (1950)
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The Wild (1950)

Artwork description & Analysis: The Wild is unique in Newman's oeuvre by virtue of its unusual size; at eight feet tall by one and a half inches wide, it focuses on the zip alone. When first exhibited it was placed directly across from the vast Vir heroicus sublimis (1950-51) and was said to be a response to the latter's sprawling size. It demonstrated Newman's belief that a painting need not be physically large to inspire an intense response from the viewer. The Wild could also be regarded as one of the first of the shaped canvases that became popular over a decade later with the arrival of artists such as Frank Stella and Kenneth Noland.

Oil on canvas - The Museum of Modern Art, New York

More Barnett Newman Artwork and Analysis:

Third Station (1960) Canto VII (1963) Broken Obelisk (1963-69)

Influences and Connections

Influences on Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Influenced by Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Barnett Newman
Interactive chart with Barnett Newman's main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
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Show influences

Artists

Alberto GiacomettiAlberto Giacometti
Piet MondrianPiet Mondrian
Kazimir MalevichKazimir Malevich

Personal Contacts

Immanuel KantImmanuel Kant
Johann Wolfgang von GoetheJohann Wolfgang von Goethe
Georg  HegelGeorg Hegel
Karl MarxKarl Marx
Clement GreenbergClement Greenberg

Movements

Pre-Columbian ArtPre-Columbian Art
Abstract ExpressionismAbstract Expressionism
Color Field PaintingColor Field Painting
SurrealismSurrealism
Influences on Artist
Influences on Artist
Barnett Newman
Barnett Newman
Years Worked: 1923 - 1940, 1944 - 1970
Influenced by Artist
Influenced by Artist

Artists

Frank StellaFrank Stella
Carl AndreCarl Andre
Donald JuddDonald Judd
Dan FlavinDan Flavin
Kenneth NolandKenneth Noland

Personal Contacts

Clement GreenbergClement Greenberg
Thomas B. HessThomas B. Hess
Harold RosenbergHarold Rosenberg

Movements

MinimalismMinimalism
Color Field PaintingColor Field Painting
Pop ArtPop Art

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Cite this page

Content compiled and written by Rachel Gershman

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

" Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Rachel Gershman
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
Available from:
First published on 01 Jul 2009. Updated and modified regularly. Information
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