A testament to the philosophical and theoretical undercurrents which inspired Motherwell’s masterful oeuvre, the present work emerges from a limited series of black and white paintings titled In Plato’s Cave inaugurated in 1972, numerous of which reside in the permanent collections of esteemed museums such as the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., the Seattle Art Museum, the Worcester Art Museum and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. This series experiments with variations on Motherwell’s earlier Open series of paintings, incorporating gestural strokes that evoke his highly acclaimed Elegies of the Spanish Republic. As with his seminal Open paintings, the works of the In Plato’s Cave series feature a plane of color intersected by three hard-edged lines which, without specifying or enclosing a shape, activate the composition and challenge the two-dimensionality of the canvas. The impetus for the inverted “U” motif featured in the present work arose by happenstance in 1967 when Motherwell, intrigued by the shape that a smaller canvas formed lying up against a larger and captivated by the relationship established here between shape and line, traced three simple lines onto the larger canvas and thus inaugurated his Open series.
In In Plato’s Cave No. 7, expressive brushstrokes illuminate and enliven an abstract landscape otherwise enveloped in piercing darkness with smoky grays and ashen, ghostly whites. Exploring the expressive faculties of his Minimalist abstract iconography, Motherwell paints in urgent strokes which in some places culminate in impenetrable passages of densely layered paint while in others achieve an almost ethereal translucence. The composition centers around the architectural framework of the inverted “U”, which delineates the mouth of a cave otherwise obscured by a velvety darkness. A burnished glow of light emanates from within this cavernous space, endowing this hollowed cavity with an enigmatic luminescence that divulges unfathomable depths whilst simultaneously acknowledging the flatness of the canvas itself. Exceptional for its rich tonality of color and thoughtful exploration of gesture and line, In Plato’s Cave No. 7 explores the very nature of abstraction and representation itself; here, Motherwell creates an enigmatic abstract landscape that, while resolutely foregoing an illusionistic representation of the natural world, draws the viewer into its captivating painterly realm, an alternate reality that reverberates within the confines of the canvas.
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