Progression of Art
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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