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Color Field Artist, Kenneth Noland

Color Field Artist, Kenneth Noland

Doug Farrick

August 25, 2010

The great Color Field (and in my opinion, one of the most underrated colorists of the 20th century) artist Kenneth Noland died a few weeks ago. I was always a fan of his work as well as the other seminal Color Field painters like Jules Olitsky, Helen Frankenthaler, Barnett Newman and Morris Louis.

I always liked the sort of “impersonalness” of it (hey, did I just make up a word?) but it really was fostered by a kind of reaction to abstraction expressionism with it’s bold gestures, bravado, physical paint.

I have had the same thoughts about Ellsworth Kelly’s work as well. It is a kind of painting that seems utterly devoid of human contact. No paint slashing, broad gestures, emotional subject matter.

“Just” large areas of precisely laid color. They feel as though they have no beginning and no end. It just looks liked they just appeared out of nowhere.

Color Field painting is generally associated with “staining” and large fields of pure color. “Staining” can be found in many work but Arshile Gorky was one of the first to use the “staining” technique, creating large fields of unbroken color.

But THE painting that changed it all for the Color Field Painters was a huge painting (measuring 7 by 10 feet) called “Mountains and Sea” by Helen Frankenthaler in 1952. It has the effect of a watercolor but it is actually created with oil paint done thinly and in washes. (see another beautiful work by Frankenthaler below)


helen frankenthaler Color Field Artist, Kenneth Noland

Both Morris Louis and Kenneth Noland saw this painting in Frankenthaler’s New York City studio and it had an immediate and profound effect on their own work.

But back to Noland. What was interesting about Noland was that he used “Series” as formats for his output. Some of his major series were called Chevrons, (see image below) Targets and Stripes. This really gave him a structure to explore color and it’s relationship to it’s support.


kenneth noland chevron Color Field Artist, Kenneth Noland

Really to experience these works you have to see them in person. Reproductions, obviously, give you visual details but it is seeing the scale, the color, the immediacy, the canvas, that Mr. Noland’s paintings really sing.

There is such an unassuming and somewhat strange beauty to his paintings that, to me, anyway, is like no other. Now that is is no longer with us I predict his work will get the due it deserves.

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