Blackpaint 35

Kenneth Noland

In yesterday’s obituary of Noland, Michael McNay recalls Clement Greenberg’s use of the term “post-painterly abstractionists” to describe Noland and others, and remarks how, for Greenberg, “the purely colour-based paintings of Noland and the others marked out a different and more advanced stage of art’s march to absolute abstraction”. 

This sounds very odd now, the idea of art as a rolling process heading in a particular direction towards fulfilment, in some sort of Hegelian or Marxian progression.  Further on in the piece, McNay mentions the “wholesale rejection by younger painters…of modernist abstraction” in the 1960s.

Now, of course, everything is fragmented and one can cut and paste from these past movements – nothing is original.  this, thank goodness, does not mean the same as “nothing is worthwhile doing”; but I suppose every piece that is produced of whatever kind fits into some existing category, with ready points of comparison by which the critic can assess its worth.

Is that really so, or is there true originality “out there”? (horrible cliche, like “I don’t think so”, or “Do you know what?” or “Good luck with that.”)  Here’s another one; Answers on a postcard to….


Yesterday, I bought the two new Taschen books “Abstract Art” and “Abstract Expressionism”.  Both full of images of great beauty and profundity that I am tempted to describe in superlatives like “stunning” and “poignant” – but I won’t, because I am of a certain age and culture, and besides they are cliches.

Something I noticed was the use of marginalised or obscured colours in two paintings in particular.  The first, by Barnett Newman, “who’s afraid of red, yellow and blue I”.  This is at first glance a red rectangle with a narrow stripe of blue running down the left margin.  Only at second glance (perhaps as a reaction to the title) do you notice the much narrower, and ragged stripe of yellow down the right margin.

The other picture, by Robert Motherwell, is one of the famous “Elegy to the Spanish Republic” series, this one no.34.  In this version, the bulbous black figures in the foreground partially hide background squares of red yellow ochre and blue, arranged in rough columns.  I think I’ve seen a version in the Tate Modern, and I’m sure that it was on a background of plain white.  The colours (of the Spanish Republican flag) transform the image from an abstract one to a symbolic one to my mind – although I suppose you could argue that the title itself does that, to an extent anyway.

More about these stunning and poignant paintings of great beauty and profundity to follow.

Today, I listened to no music at all – but I watched Wolfie Adams beat Dave Chisnall in the darts final, to the accompaniment of the most surreal commentary yet from Tony Green and his colleague.



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