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                                                Color Fields  

                                                   Barnett Newman

    American abstract painting that first developed in the late 1940s, when it was characterized by large fields of intense color. The movement gained complexity as it evolved throughout the 1950s and 1960s. Color-field painting is considered one of two branches of the American painting movement called abstract expressionism. The other branch, known as action painting, places much greater emphasis on the spontaneous gestures of the artist at work.

    Like all abstract painters, color-field painters rejected the depiction of recognizable forms. But they also rejected all traces of symbolism in painting and felt that even abstract linear form, as in the drip paintings by action painter Jackson Pollock, distracted from the direct experience of pure color, exalted and indescribable. The monumental scale and minimal surface texture of their paintings contributed to the powerful experience of the works, which was meant to engulf the viewer. This devotion to formal purity closely associates color-field painting with the minimal art movement.

    Color-field painting’s earliest innovators were painters Clifford Still, Mark Rothko, and Barnett Newman. In 1947 Still began to fill large canvases with thickly painted color fields bounded by jagged contours. Rothko’s signature abstractions, which appeared two years later, contain fuzzy-edged rectangles of a single, softly brushed color; generally he painted two or more such rectangles on a canvas, stacking the images vertically. Newman’s mature paintings, which also date from 1949, are equally simple, consisting of vast expanses of bright color punctuated by a few clean-edged vertical stripes, which he called “zips.”

    The term color-field painting is also applied to the work of a succeeding generation of artists. In 1952 artist Helen Frankenthaler began to pour paint freely onto raw canvas, causing the paint to bleed into the fabric in soft-edged pools. Shortly thereafter, painters Morris Louis and Kenneth Noland also adopted this technique. Louis produced layered veils of color, whereas Noland eventually began to tightly confine his colors within target and chevron shapes. Artist Jules Olitski started experimenting with color staining techniques in about 1960, and by 1965 had begun using a spray gun to apply color, allowing the boundaries between colors to meld into one another. 

The influential American art critic Clement Greenberg, who helped promote the abstract expressionist movement when it was in its infancy, became a major supporter of these later color-field painters. Greenberg believed that each art discipline should explore its own distinctive physical features, and therefore urged painters to focus exclusively on color and surface.

Source: Cited from Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia with revisions. 

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