Color Field

This form of abstract painting originated in New York City and became a popular style during the 1940s and 1950s. The idea behind the style was for color to enjoy freedom from the context of the object. Works reflected large fields of color atop a flat canvas. Artists strove to celebrate color as detached from its conventional mode which has been to convey an object. The style grew out of the American Expressionist movement, particularly after WWII when the art focus transitioned from Paris to New York City.

Mark Rothko and Clyfford Still are regarded as early and highly influential Color Field artists. Rothko shirked off the label and viewed color as simply an “instrument.” Still, he was intrigued by the juxtaposition of colors. His arrangements of color depicted jagged works that implied the tearing of colors. He often stated he was influenced by the stalactites of caves and some of his work embodies that influence. Robert Motherwell was also a leading figure of the style; he was largely influenced by the works of Henri Matisse. Motherwell was concerned with the depiction of color but also shape. Other artists attached to the Color Field style include Barnett Newman, Jackson Pollack, Hans Hoffman, Arshile Gorky, and Adolf Gottlieb.

Though Color Field was largely viewed as a “style” during the forties and early fifties, it ballooned into a full-blown movement by the late 1950s and during the 1960s. A crop of new artists became associated with the 1960s movement which was characterized by less “angst” in the Color Field works to embrace a calmer visual experience. These artists included Frank Stella, Ray Parker, Anne Truitt, Gene Davis, Sam Francis, Al Held, John McLaughlin, and Helen Frankenthaler. During this period, the movement was seen as a detachment from Abstract Expressionism from which it grew out of to become a full-fledge style of its own.

Color Field is often viewed in association with other movements like Suprematism and Lyrical Abstraction. Art scholars note that one of the most important characteristics of Color Field was to demonstrate new and effective ways that paint could be applied to canvas. Some of the best known Color Field works include “Beginning” by Kenneth Noland, Who’s Afraid of Red, Yellow, and Blue by Barnett Newman, “The Gate” by Hans Hoffman, “Harrah II” by Frank Stella, “No. 61 (Rust and Blue) by Mark Rothko, “Elegy to the Spanish Republic, No. 110” by Robert Motherwell, and “1957 D1” by Clyfford Still.