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Kenneth Noland Photo

Kenneth Noland

American Painter

Born: April 10, 1924 - Asheville, North Carolina
Died: January 5, 2010 - Port Clyde, Maine
"I think of painting without subject matter as music without words."
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Kenneth Noland Signature
"With artists of my own generation there was at first no group identity - and never a clique."
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Kenneth Noland Signature
"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."
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Kenneth Noland Signature
"For me context is the key - from that comes the understanding of everything."
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Kenneth Noland Signature
"Because of this the representation I'm interested in is of those things only the eye can touch."
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Kenneth Noland Signature
"Context begins with other artists - seniors and mentors."
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Kenneth Noland Signature

Summary of Kenneth Noland

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-20th-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.


  • 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.

Biography of Kenneth Noland

Kenneth Noland Photo

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.

Important Art by Kenneth Noland

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.

Ex-Nihilo (1958)

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.

Beginnings (1958)

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.

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Content compiled and written by Justin Wolf

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

"Kenneth Noland Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Justin Wolf
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
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First published on 25 Jan 2015. Updated and modified regularly
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