Barnett Newman...


My Newman study. (I hadn't learnt the crop or centering program at this point for the upload!)

Now that my course with MOMA has finished I have time to share with you the artists we studied and some of what I learned about their techniques and the materials they used. It is nice to be able to go over the course material and recap the highlights.

I discovered some artists I had not heard of before and despite not being sure I would enjoy certain weeks of study on viewing their work at the begining of the course, by the time I had learnt something of their practice and philosophy in painting, I found invariably, I liked them so much more!

Barnett Newman was definately one of these artists. Newman is best known for his 'Zips'. These are vertical strips of color strategically placed on the ground layer of paint. His paintings are made of multiple layers but minimal in palette and certainly not 'Action' painting (such as the methods of Jackson Pollock) although his relationship with his materials was a paramount factor in the way he chose to paint.

It was an exploration of paint as a subject - the interplay between colors. The effect of 'push and pull' when certain colors were used together. The general rule is that dark, cool colors recede and light, warmer colors advance toward to viewer. Newman used this theory in his play of colors between the 'Zips' and the ground.

He was quite absorbed with the qualities of different paints and how they changed with different supports. His exploration was based around getting a certain 'finish' to a coat of color. It is actually a lot harder than one may think to get an even coat of paint on a canvas. To do this with multiple layers is even more so. He was focused on the relationship between figure,(in his case, the 'zip') and ground.

Restricting his palette and technique to fully explore relationships of the grahic device of the 'Zip', it's placement and the quality of the ground. I recall my first impression of these minimal works as being less than excited. After reading more about what motivated Newman in his exploration of paint as a medium to explore the precision and exactness of application, I had more respect for what, at first glance can seem so minimal and non-descript.

I recently saw the 'Post War Abstract Expressionists' Exihibition at MOMA in NYC. It displayed the work of all the artists we had covered in the course of the same name. When I entered the space hanging the work of Newman, tears came to my eyes. They had a very real presence and a grand intergrity!

Here is a link to a MOMA video made with my tutor Corey D'Augustine speaking about Barnett Newman and one of his major works on display at MOMA titled 'Vir Heroicus Sublimis'. Corey does a great job explaining Newman's technique with the making of the 'zips'!