Issue Date: March 11, 2010
City: Buffalo, NY
Printing Method: Lithographed
Perforations: Serpentine Die Cut
Hans Hofmann – The Golden Wall
To Hans Hofmann (1880-1966), “the whole world... comes to us through the mystic realm of color.” In his six-decade career as a painter and teacher, Hofmann created his own style and guided a generation of artists into the modern art movement.
Raised in Bavaria, Germany, Hofmann patented several inventions before moving to Paris at age 18 to study art. In his 10 years there, he studied under and befriended such influential artists as Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, and Georges Braque. Other influences included Fauvist artists such as Henri Evenepoel.
After leaving Paris, Hofmann opened his own schools in Munich, Germany, and New York City, teaching for over 40 years. He was renowned for his connections to modern European artists, and his theories on color, space, and nature. Writer Clement Greenberg praised him as “the most important art teacher” of his time.
At 78, Hofmann retired from teaching to focus on his painting. It was at this time in his life when he created some of his greatest works and gained fame as the teacher of many Abstract Expressionists. In 1961, he created The Golden Wall in oil paint, exploring his theory of “push-pull,” in which the cool blue areas of the canvas pull forward while the warm red pushes backward. Contradicting traditional color theories helped make Hofmann one of the leading artists of the period.
Willem de Kooning – Asheville
Willem de Kooning (1904-97) believed “The attitude that nature is chaotic and that the artist puts order into it is a very absurd point of view... All that we can hope for is to put some order into ourselves.” De Kooning achieved this order in his art by reworking the image, despite its chaotic appearance.
After studying art for eight years in the Netherlands, de Kooning traveled to the United States as a stowaway aboard the SS Shelley in 1926. Early influences on his work included artist and critic John D. Graham, Pablo Picasso, Peter Paul Rubens, Michelangelo, Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, and close friend Arshile Gorky.
Throughout his career, de Kooning experimented with several artistic styles, mastering each and moving onto another, although he found the greatest fame and joy in painting abstract. In works such as his 1948 oil painting, Asheville, de Kooning experimented with collage techniques to give his work a highly layered look. Over the course of several months, he scraped down and built up the surface of the painting, layering background images over foreground, giving the painting movement. De Kooning’s smeared brushstrokes and abstract style made him one of the most influential and copied painters of his time.
In 1964, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, likely for his Depression-era government building paintings created for the Federal Art Project.
Mark Rothko – Orange and Yellow
For Mark Rothko (1903-70), “a painting is not a picture of an experience, but is the experience.” Rothko created this feeling by removing recognizable symbols and figures from his works and communicating intense emotions through color.
Mark Rothko had his first “experience” with art at the age of 20, watching a class sketch a live model. Studying under renowned artists Arshile Gorky, Max Weber, and Milton Avery, Rothko discovered that painting was a form of emotional and religious expression. Other early influences on Rothko’s style include Surrealist Paul Klee, and German Expressionist Franz Marc.
Rothko developed his signature style in the mid-1940s, realizing that he could convey stronger emotions through his paintings by placing emphasis on emotional expression through color, rather than figure. For Rothko, creating these massive paintings was a religious experience. His 1956 oil painting, Orange and Yellow, is a cheerfully moving piece that leaves many of its viewers moved by the overwhelming intensity.
Rothko’s legacy continues, as his style influenced many art schools to teach color field painting (creating large areas of flat color with no emphasis on brushstrokes). In 2007 one of Rothko’s paintings sold for $72.8 million, breaking the record selling price of any post-war painting at public auction.
Jackson Pollock – Convergence
Describing his unorthodox style of drip painting, Jackson Pollock (1912-56) remarked, “When I’m painting, I’m not aware of what I’m doing. It’s only after a ‘get-acquainted’ period that I see what I’ve been about. I’ve no fears about making changes, for the painting has a life of its own.” Despite their chaotic and random appearance, Pollock’s works were carefully executed.
Raised in Arizona and California, Pollock was largely influenced by Native American culture. After moving to New York City in 1930, Pollock studied under Thomas Hart Benton, whose rhythmic painting style greatly impacted him. Over the next 15 years, Pollock’s observations of Indian sand painting, Mexican muralists, and surrealists influenced his artistic style.
Nicknamed “Jack the Dripper,” Pollock preferred to lay large canvases on the floor so he could walk around his work, viewing and painting from all directions. His technique included dripping house paint on the canvas and moving it around with hardened brushes and sticks. Employing this technique on his 1952 painting, Convergence, Pollock used color, line, shape, texture, brushstroke, and light to express emotion.
Jackson was one of the most well-known Abstract Expressionists and his legacy lies with his one-of-a-kind drip paintings and purely abstracted artistic style.
Arshile Gorky – The Liver is the Cock’s Comb
Arshile Gorky (1904-48) believed that “Abstract art enables the artist to perceive beyond the tangible, to extract the infinite out of the finite. It is the emancipation of the mind. It is an explosion into unknown areas.” For Gorky, this included painting from the depths of his unconscious to become one of the pioneers of America’s first art movement – Abstract Expressionism.
After witnessing the Armenian Genocide of the early 1900s and his mother’s death from starvation, Gorky traveled to the U.S. in 1920 to put tragedy behind him and explore new possibilities. Studying in Boston and New York, Gorky taught himself to paint in the style of the masters and was most influenced by Pablo Picasso, Paul Cézanne, Wassily Kandinsky, Joan Miró, Henri Matisse, Roberto Matta, and André Breton. His experimentation with multiple artistic styles gave him an unparalleled sensitivity for painting. And the tragedies that plagued him throughout his life provided him with a wealth of emotion to express.
Gorky’s 1944 oil painting The Liver is the Cock’s Comb, bridged the gap between Surrealism and Abstract Expressionism. It was described by André Breton as “...one of the most important paintings made in America.” Gorky’s ability to convey such strong emotions through color and with such delicacy paved the way for the following generation of abstract artists.
Clyfford Still – 1948-C
Concerning his art, Clyfford Still (1904-80) said, “I never wanted color to be color. I never wanted texture to be texture, or images to become shapes. I wanted them all to fuse together into a living spirit.” As one of the first Abstract Expressionists, Still achieved his goal by creating large, expansive works using color and texture in unusual ways to give his works a life of their own.
Raised in Washington and Canada, Still had an early appreciation for art, and much of his art reflected the vast open landscapes of his childhood. Studying the works of Paul Cézanne, Pablo Picasso, and William Blake profoundly impacted his artistic style. Early in his career, Still was an influential art professor in California before settling in New York. He was one of the first artists of his time to move away from the Surrealist style and focus on abstract art.
Embracing the abstract style, Still created works such as 1948-C, featuring jagged forms applied thickly in oil onto the canvas surrounded by large, even color fields. Still’s focus in all his works was to convey the struggle between the human spirit and nature. This was represented by contrasting paint applications, often through color field painting (large areas of flat, solid color). Still is highly regarded as one of the first artists to embrace abstraction and color field painting.
Robert Motherwell – Elegy to the Spanish Republic No. 34
In describing his painting process, Robert Motherwell (1915-91) claimed that “Whatever meaning [a] picture has is the accumulated meaning of ten thousand brushstrokes, each one being decided as it was painted.” Motherwell’s paintings feature dramatic brushwork that inspires intense emotions in many viewers.
Prior to becoming an artist, Motherwell received his Bachelor’s degree in philosophy and had begun his Ph.D. at Harvard. A trip to Europe in 1938 introduced Motherwell to the Surrealist art of Max Ernst, Yves Tanguy, and André Masson. Inspired by their work, Motherwell discovered his need to portray significant human themes with paint. He was also influenced by Cubist artists such as Raymond Duchamp-Villon. His extensive education in literature served useful, as Motherwell became the spokesman for the Abstract Expressionists. He toured the country and wrote about the new form of non-representational art in New York City. Since many of his fellow artists were shy or reclusive, their art may not have reached such a broad audience without these efforts.
In 1948, Motherwell began a series of over 100 oil paintings, each titled Elegy to the Spanish Republic, followed by the number in the series. Inspired by the Spanish Civil War, Motherwell claimed the paintings were not political but represented “a terrible death [that] happened and should not be forgot.”
Joan Mitchell – La Grande Vallee O
Discussing the impact of art on her life, Joan Mitchell (1925-92) remarked, “Painting is like music – it is beyond life and death. It is another dimension.” Those who view her works discover this other dimension – filled with bright colors and endless magical landscapes.
Fond of literature and art from an early age, Joan Mitchell sold her first landscape painting while in eighth grade. Viewing the works of Paul Cézanne, Wassily Kandinksy, Henri Matisse, and especially Vincent Van Gogh fueled her love of art and largely influenced her painting style. Arriving in New York City in 1950, Mitchell became well known among the Abstract Expressionists, who praised her work and helped establish her reputation as one of the city’s most promising young artists. After five years, she moved to Paris, where she was greatly influenced by the style and colors of the French Impressionists.
For 13 months beginning in 1983, Mitchell embarked on a 21-painting suite (she disliked the term “series”) called La Grande Vallée. Covering each canvas from edge to edge, her oil paintings captured Mitchell’s own enchanting vision of the way the vast landscape made her feel.
One of the era’s few successful female painters, Joan Mitchell gained recognition at an early age and spent her career pushing the boundaries of her art.
Adolph Gottlieb – Romanesque Facade
For Adolph Gottlieb (1903-74), the artist’s “...values have to center around creativity... to paint well, to express one’s own uniqueness [or] the uniqueness of one’s own time, to relate to the great traditions of art, to communicate with a small but elite audience, these are the satisfactions of the artist.” Throughout his career, Gottlieb pushed the boundaries of modern art, leading him to become one of the first Americans to embrace the Abstract Expressionist movement.
By the early 1920s, Gottlieb had studied in New York, Germany, and France, making him one of the most traveled American artists of his time. After a brief period of teaching, he spent two years painting the vast Arizona desert, fully exploring the Surrealist style. Returning to New York, Gottlieb met European Surrealists who confirmed his belief that the subconscious was the source for universal art. His influences included Robert Henri, John Sloan, Milton Avery, John Graham, and Paul Gauguin.
Gottlieb was most famous for works such as his 1949 oil painting Romanesque Facade. This work consisted of several simple symbols, with no single focal point. Gottlieb believed the collection of symbols could unlock a feeling in the unconscious mind of his viewers. As one of the first Abstract Expressionists, Gottlieb inspired other artists of the movement to experiment with his techniques.
Barnett Newman – Achilles
Barnett Newman (1905-70) stated, “I hope that my painting has the impact of giving someone, as it did me, the feeling of his own totality, of his own separateness, of his own individuality.” Newman accomplished this in works that have been regarded for their high-quality painting as well as philosophical statements.
Newman began studying art in high school and college as he earned a degree in philosophy. In the early 1940s, he took a break from art and produced a great deal of writing on philosophy and art. By 1944, Newman was inspired by Surrealism to start painting again. Other important influences on his style included Alberto Giacometti, Piet Mondrian, and Auguste Macke.
In 1948, Newman developed the “zip” – a thin vertical line surrounded by flat color, intended to envelope the viewer in the piece and physically and emotionally fill them with the “original spark of life.” Newman’s 1952 oil and acrylic painting, Achilles, features an uncommonly expanded zip. The red, fiery shape spreading down the canvas is seen as a reference to the shield created for Achilles by Hephaestus (patron of metal works and god of fire) in Homer’s Iliad.
Newman’s influence spread beyond Abstract Expressionism, influencing a generation of minimalist painters, and opening new doors to what painting could be.