Robert Motherwell, one of the youngest of the Abstract Expressionists, is often credited with articulating the aesthetic rhetoric of the New York School. A student of speech, he was capable of putting into words the philosophies that his contemporaries seemed only able to express in paint. Arguably, it is Motherwell who we can thank for exposing Abstract Expressionism to a wide audience and for placing it within the art historical canon.
Intellectually aligned with the French Existentialists, Motherwell located meaning in oblique forms and vast expanses of single colors, claiming that "Wherever art appears, life disappears." His Open paintings, which follow the critically acclaimed Elegies for the Spanish Republic series, are perhaps the ones most visually in keeping with his philosophy. Unlike earlier works, which appear more typical of Abstract Expressionism, the Open paintings are a minimalistic endeavor. Through a "process of extreme economy," Motherwell renders consecutive rectangles, frames within frames, and one-dimensional windows. Windows, inherently liminal locations between real spaces, voids themselves, are a pregnant motif for the artist, and like the Existentialists with whom he found resonance, "Motherwell's work in its entirety becomes a superb and beautiful litany or evocation of the existence of modern man, and in particular the struggle to infuse meaning into life. Time and again, his art makes us feel as if we are poised at the edge of the chasm" (Exh. Cat., Buffalo, Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Robert Motherwell, 1983, p. 7).
In the impressive Open No. 30: In Crimson with Charcoal Line, the swathes of red paint appear typically uniform, but it is saturated to such a degree that it appears to pool. Gradations in brushwork seem almost to vibrate, the expanse of color humming with richness. The largeness and the oneness of the canvas create a sort of contained atmosphere, and despite Motherwell's tendency to "restrict his means, the variations he can play within his self-imposed limits seem infinite." (H.H. Arnason, Robert Motherwell, New York, 1977. p. 74).
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