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
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
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
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
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.