Liz Hawkes deNiord, Putney, Vermont, Painting, Abstract painting, Pottery, Poetry, and Sculpture, LHD Design, Candelabras Ceramics. Vases
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Recently on a visit to National Gallery's East wing, I rediscovered Barnett Newman. Or maybe I  really discovered him for the first time in the 4th floor exhibit  in the Tower. The only other artist on the floor, in the next room, was Mark Rothko. Truthfully, Rothko was the reason I hiked up to the 4th floor but I encountered Newman's room 1st and was caught in quite a spell.

It was one large room filled with Newman's final masterpiece, a suite of 14 paintings entitled Lema Sabachthani  (Why have you forsaken me?) or  Stations of the Cross.  I had no response to the title except perhaps a bit of skepticism. Standing in the large space I was surrounded by these 5x 6.5  foot paintings that I could not tear myself from. What overwhelmed me was the vibrating presence of the line, a vertical stripe in each work which puzzled and which also drew me to them. While they all seemed similar, they were each distinct. The vertical stripes or zips were intended to divide the monochromatic canvas below and yet ironically, they unified using tape as a mask, painting black over or next to the tape.

Later, reading further about Newman, I discovered wonderful and curious things.  Newman was born in 1905 and in college majored in Philosophy. At 35 he destroyed almost all of the work he had painted up to then. He, along with Rothko and Motherwell, was searching for a way to express the inexpressible as opposed to the styles that had been part of the early 20th c..

This series began after his heart attack at age 53. The first 4 pieces were a continuation of his exploration in abstract expressionism. After the 4th canvas Newman grasped  the theme of Stations of the Cross which evolved six years later into the thematic suite of 14 monumental works.  The title evidently came not as a religious message but as a larger political question posed after WW1  a question that had no answer ( as the crucifixion question had no answer ) but that reflected the agony of the generation going forward.

So what drew me to him? First, it was the use of division/unifying a rectangle.  My own work often develops in bands and of colors and texture. The question then is how to unify the work through color overlay and fusing of color bands, and sometimes by making the division more pronounced. After seeing Newman's work, I was able to see with new appreciation, how the division or the line or band could both divide and  unify a work. Not that my pieces are in the same arena, but that an artist struggles to define a work sometimes by not defining it. This oxymoron hits close to home.

Below are a few samples of what I have been exploring both before and after seeing Newman's great master suite.



 

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