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White Gray Black

Kenneth Noland (American, 1924–2010)

About this artist

Source: Oxford University Press

American painter and sculptor. He served in the US Air Force from 1942 to 1946 and after his discharge took advantage of the G.I. Bill to study at Black Mountain College in North Carolina. There he was taught by Ilya Bolotowsky, learning about Neo-plasticism and Mondrian; he also had one course with Josef Albers, whom he found rigid and doctrinaire but from whom he learnt about Bauhaus theories. During this period he also developed an interest in Paul Klee’s work, especially in his use of colour. In 1948, again under the G.I. Bill, Noland travelled to Paris. There he studied sculpture in Ossip Zadkine’s studio and, guided by him, also painted, though Zadkine’s Cubist aesthetic seemed a little old-fashioned to him after his Bauhaus training. While in Paris he also saw paintings by Picasso, Miró and Matisse and in 1949 had his first one-man show at the Galerie Raymond Creuze.

On his return to the USA in 1949 Noland moved to Washington, DC, where he studied works by Klee in the Phillips Collection. Klee’s influence is apparent in his paintings of this period, such as In the Garden (c. 1952; Washington, DC, Phillips Col.). From 1949 to 1951 he taught at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in Washington, DC, and also attended summer courses at Black Mountain College, where in 1950 he met Helen Frankenthaler and Clement Greenberg, through whom he became aware of Abstract Expressionism, especially Pollock’s work; in the same year he also met David Smith.

On the imminent closure of the ICA Noland obtained a teaching post at the Catholic University in Washington, DC, remaining there until 1960. Pollock’s influence on his work, which became apparent in 1952 in paintings such as Untitled (1952; Washington, DC, V. Melzac priv. col., see Moffett, p. 25), was strengthened by his friendship from that year with Morris Louis, who shared this interest. In 1953 they were taken together to Frankenthaler’s studio by Greenberg to see her poured, stained paintings, which deeply impressed them. After this experience Noland went through an experimental period during which he used the stain technique, along with other processes (e.g. In a Mist, 1955; Washington, DC, Cornelia Noland priv. col., see 1977 exh. cat., p. 20).

Noland and Louis, together with other painters in Washington, DC, working within the terms of Colour field painting, were later termed the Washington color painters, but they were also among the painters for whom Greenberg coined the term Post-painterly abstraction in 1964. As early as 1956, while still indebted in his techniques to Pollock and Frankenthaler, Noland moved away from the Abstract Expressionist principle of ‘all-over’ composition, favouring instead a clear centre. The circle, usually set centrally on a square canvas, began to emerge as an important element in his work, for example in Globe (1956; Washington, DC, Cornelia Noland priv. col., see 1977 exh. cat., p. 49), as a way of countering traditional methods of relational composition. The sharp delineation accorded to concentric rings of different colours in works such as Turnsole (1961; New York, MOMA) brought Noland within the terms of Hard-edge painting.

After experimenting briefly with elliptical forms, for example in Hover (1963; Cambridge, MA, Fogg), by 1963 Noland replaced the circle with the chevron as his dominant motif, stressing axial symmetry in paintings such as Dusk (1962; Washington, DC, Hirshhorn). By 1964 he also painted off-centre asymmetric compositions, such as Bend Sinister (1964; Washington, DC, Hirshhorn). In all these works he pieced together hard-edge, interlocking chevron shapes in bright, contrasting colours, the whole composition often suspended from the top of the canvas. To avoid the formal problems thus created by expanses of bare canvas, in 1964 he began to turn the square format on its edge, as in Drive (St Louis, MO, A. Mus.), or to use lozenge-shaped canvases, as in Trans West (1965; Amsterdam, Stedel. Mus.). In the late 1960s he concentrated on paintings consisting of horizontal bands of colour, such as April Tune (1969; New York, Guggenheim), and also produced striped works in the lozenge format. During this period he began to make sculptures, initially influenced by Smith and by Anthony Caro, a close friend; these were followed by other sculptures made of sheet steel, such as Shadow (1973–6; artist’s priv. col., see Moffett, figs 67–8).

In the early 1970s Noland introduced a grid structure into his paintings (e.g. Aires Solo, 1971; Adelaide, A.G. S. Australia), creating works reminiscent of Mondrian but with a matrix of coloured lines. From the late 1970s and into the early 1980s he began working with irregularly shaped canvases covered by geometric areas of restrained colour, although he later returned to regular canvases and to some of his earlier chevron designs, now using thickly applied paint, as in Timeless Movement (1986; see 1989 exh. cat., pl. 43). Colour remained his prime concern, with shapes employed simply as its vehicle.

From Grove Art Online

© 2009 Oxford University Press


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