Artist: Kenneth Noland

Wright celebrates the work of Kenneth Noland, one of the defining American artists of the late 20th century. As a leading figure of postwar abstraction, Noland's pure and ecstatic approach to color continues to attract renown among collectors and institutions.
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All art that is expressive has to be illusionistic. The raw material out of which art is built is not necessarily in itself potent; you must transform it. Contours, tactility, touch, color, intervals, that’s all part of the concreteness of art. You have to make the concreteness expressive.

Kenneth Noland

Four Things to Know about Kenneth Noland

Henri Matisse and Paul Klee were early and persistent influences on Noland's use of color.

Noland's first solo exhibition in New York was at Tibor de Nagy Gallery in 1957. Poet James Schulyer described it as "a breath of spring in the depths of winter ... always musical to the eye."

In 1966, he and artist Anthony Caro bought art materials from sculptor David Smith's estate after his death, prompting Noland to begin creating sculptures.

Noland studied under Ilya Bolotowsky and Josef Albers at Black Mountain College and was close with Helen Frankenthaler and Morris Louis. He once proclaimed, “Context begins with other artists – seniors and mentors.”

Jules Olitski, Clement Greenberg, Kenworth Moffett, Noland and Willard Boepple, 1976. Critic Greenberg was an early champion of Noland's work. Image reproduced from Kenneth Noland: A Retrospective, Waldman

Color possesses me. I don't have to pursue it. It will possess me always. I know it. That is the meaning of this happy hour: Color and I are one. I am a painter.

Kenneth Noland

Auction Results Kenneth Noland

Kenneth Noland 1924–2010

Kenneth Noland is regarded as a leading voice in postwar abstraction and is celebrated for his painterly minimalism and pure, exuberant use of color. Noland was born in Asheville, North Carolina in 1924. He described his father, a physician, as a “Sunday painter,” exposing young Noland to painting early in his life. After leaving the Air Force, Noland began his formal art studies at the famed Black Mountain College in 1946, located just twenty miles from where he was born. Under the tutelage of artists such as Willem de Kooning, John Cage, Ilya Bolotowsky and Josef Albers, Noland began creating work with the new avant-garde ideals he was being exposed to. Noland cites Paul Klee, Henri Matisse and Piet Mondrian as early influences, though he would eventually reject the hard-edge geometric ideals of Mondrian. Albers’ theories regarding the interaction of color would form the most lasting influence on Noland’s work.

Noland briefly studied in Paris in 1948 and returned to the United States to teach at various schools in Washington, D.C. While there, Noland developed a close friendship with artist Morris Louis, who, like Noland, was creating paintings outside of the prevailing Abstract Expressionist style. In 1952, along with critic Clement Greenberg, the two visited Helen Frankenthaler’s studio in New York and both were enthralled by Frankenthaler’s technique and use of color. Noland cites this meeting as pivotal to the development of his mature style.

In 1958, Noland began creating his Target/Circles paintings, focusing on them almost exclusively until 1963, when he began his Chevron series. The 1970s brought about his horizontal Stripes paintings. Through these focused explorations, Noland found the ecstatic and subtle in returning to the basic foundations of painting: line, form, color and scale. He expanded upon these ideas by later playing with the shape of the canvas, abandoning the simple rectangular format.

As the end of the twentieth century approached, Noland once again returned to his Target paintings, asserting that the formalist abstraction he helped bring to prominence in the decades previous still held spiritual importance, even though the world had changed so significantly. Noland passed away in 2010 in the small town in Maine where he lived and worked. Though he was often associated with the postwar New York art scene, Noland lived mostly in the New England country, aiding in his uncluttered, clear and direct work. The Guggenheim Museum, New York held a retrospective of Noland’s monumental body of work in 2010 and his paintings and sculptures are held in prestigious public and private collections around the world.


 Interview with Kenneth Noland and Diane Waldman, curator at the Guggenheim Museum on WNYC's About the Arts, 1977

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