Working his way from the center of the canvas outward within a distinct compositional format, Noland's color schemes developed in a similar progression of repeated concentric images as the squares of his former professor Josef Albers, with whom he studied in 1947 at Black Mountain College. Concentrating on color as his primary concern, Noland rigorously experimented with varying palettes. "Noland's search for the ideal Platonic form has crystallized into an art in which color and form are held in perfect equilibrium," Diane Waldman explained. "The spare geometry of his form heightens the emotional impact of his color. The rational and the felt, distilled form and sensuous color intermesh to create a magic presence. His color is space. Color is all" (Diane Waldman in: Exh. Cat., New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Kenneth Noland: A Retrospective, 1977, p. 36).
In order to equate space and color, Noland employed a unique staining technique which endowed the surface of his paintings with a revolutionary degree of unity with the canvas, as seen in the present lot. Acutely aware that hard edges and geometry tauten the effect of stain, while the stain in turn softens the geometry and prevents rigidity, Noland allowed his staining to dovetail his design. This process served both to open the picture and to identify color with surface. Here, raw canvas is allowed to function both as its literal self, as well as a space to generate light, air, and atmosphere. "I do open paintings," Noland emphasized. "I like lightness, airiness, and the way color pulsates. The presence of the painting is all that's important" (Kenneth Noland quoted in Kenneth Moffet, Kenneth Noland, New York, 1977, p. 51). At the outermost edge of Heat, a trail of freehand brushing, characteristic of his earliest targets, creates the illusion of energy thrown off by centrifugal motion. Abstract Expressionistic in derivation, this outer ring intensifies the drama, and sets off the circles as a single configuration. As a result, the most radical impact of the circles is their feeling of weightlessness, which comes not only from their absence of orientation–which Noland often reconsidered in his individual works–but also from the flatness of the staining itself and of their geometric design.
Blooming and pulsating with light, the evocatively titled painting, Heat, is simultaneously dense and fluid, with the prominent raw canvas–a defining feature of Noland's oeuvre–dramatizing the bold, stained colors that in turn create a virtual spinning of the colored bands. This particular painting is significant in that it was exhibited in Noland’s first circle paintings exhibition at French & Co in 1959 and then included in the 1977-78 retrospective at the Guggenheim Museum (among other venues). Stabilized by a central circle of brilliant red, the rings of pink, blue, orange, yellow and black separated by bands of unprimed canvas create an optical impression of the bands protruding towards the viewer while at the same time retaining their unity with the flat surface of the pictorial support. Embodied throughout the painting, with its continuous concentric rings in brilliant, saturated hues, the dramatic power of the image is heightened to the utmost degree while simultaneously preserving the integrity and unity of the gestalt shape of the target.
Framing the target, strokes of blue, green and mauve pigment emerge out of Heat’s outermost ring. In this case, the exterior bands of color appear more fluid and heavier on the right side of the canvas. Noland created his compositions outside of a preexisting shape, which to him was integral to abstractness, for it presupposed that the artist conceived of his picture as an independent object whose limits are determined only by aesthetic considerations, and not by accepting a given set of proportions and dimensions. Thus calling these paintings “targets” slightly misrepresents their abstract nature and overall effect of studying intense colors that radiate with dramatic impact. With its fiery red and yellow solar tones superimposed on cascades of radiating blue pigment, Heat possesses the crackling energy of celestial bodies. By accepting certain characteristics of the stain as a positive, this etherealness, toughened by crisp pictorial logic and thus by the tenseness of his unities, became very much part of Noland's artistic sensibility. Heat thus appears as fresh, powerful and important today as when it was first exhibited.
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