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Sunday, June 23, 2013

Kenneth Noland

October, 1961, Kenneth Noland. No, that's not Noland in drag, it's art collector
Muriel Kallis Steinberg Newman. (Are those Kenneth Noland glasses?)
This is Kenneth Noland, during his
stripes period.
Very few artists' works can be classified into only four categories. In the case of color-field painter, Kenneth Noland, if it's not a circle, not a chevron, not stripes, or not a shaped canvas it's not a Kenneth Noland. Once you get past this limited content, Kenneth Noland's work is easy to like, though in lacking much emotional range, it might be going to far to call it "easy to love." Be that as it may, if you like or "love" colors, you're going find it easy to form an attachment for Noland's work simply because color relationships, and to a certain extent, shapes, is what Noland's work is all about. In fact, one could go so far as to say its all his work is about.

Ex-Nihilio, 1958, Kenneth
Noland,one of his earliest.
Noland was born in 1924, in the heart of heartland America, Asheville, North Carolina. Upon finishing high school amid the darkest days of WW II, Noland joined the Army Air Corp where he served during the war. Like so many young men his age, once the war was over the new G.I. Bill looked quite attractive. Noland chose the highly experimental (in more ways than one) Black Mountain College not far from his home where he was exposed to such creatively laden minds as Ilya Bowlotowsky and Josef Albers who exposed him to Piet Mondrian, Paul Klee, Bauhaus theory, and Neo-plasticism. All of these influences can be seen in his later work.

Beginning, 1958, Kenneth Noland
Following two years at Black Mountain, Noland studied in Paris another two years before moving into the heart of Abstract Expressionism in New York. There he met two other more powerful influences, Morris Lewis and Helen Frankenthaler. From Lewis, he borrowed his stripes, from Frankenthaler her trademark soak and stain method of painting. Neither artist was a bonafide member of the prevailing school of Abstract Expressionism. Neither was Noland. Nothing of his work can be found before 1958 when he started painting rather crude circles (sometimes called targets) as seen in his Ex-Nihilio (above, left). His Beginning (right) from the same year illustrates how quickly his targets evolved. The circles are still irregular but there is little Abstract Expressionist crudity apparent. It would appear he was waiting for the art world to get Abstract Expressionism out of its system.

Halfway, 1964, Kenneth Noland
By 1961, Noland's circles were near-perfect (top), his color relationships more subdued and complex. Perhaps feeling he'd achieved perfection he moved on to squares by 1964 and to shaped (some very oddly shaped) canvases in the 1970s (below). Late in life, in the final years before his death in 2010 at the age of eighty-five, Noland revisited his old friend the circle, this time with softer, more gentle colors and renderings (bottom).

Ova-Ray, 1976, Kenneth Noland,
a framer's worst nightmare.

Mysteries: Afloat, 2000, Kenneth Noland

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