Newman proclaimed Onement, I to be his artistic breakthrough, giving the work an importance belied by its modest size. This is the first time the artist used a vertical band to define the spatial structure of his work. This band, later dubbed a "zip," became Newman's signature mark. The artist applied the light cadmium red zip atop a strip of masking tape with a palette knife. This thick, irregular band on the smooth field of Indian Red simultaneously divides and unites the composition.
Abstract Expressionist New York: The Big Picture, October 3, 2010–April 25, 2011
Curator, Ann Temkin: Onement, I is the first painting that Newman made, which contains the device for which he would become famous, and what became later known as the "zip." The zips were basically vertical lines that divided a canvas into different sections.
This first zip painting is made, with the masking tape set directly on top of the background color, the kind of wonderful maroon. And then that masking tape is painted over, with this very expressive brushy red–orange that is so bright compared to that background beneath it.
The fact that the masking tape remains on Onement, I shows us how much of an experiment it really was—that Newman did not know what was happening when he first made it. This is a small painting. And yet, the possibilities that lay within it for vast paintings are evident in the room around you.