As the present composition supremely demonstrates, each band of colour exists as an autonomous entity, bleeding into the fibres of the canvas and becoming one with it. Meticulously ordered, the colour palette of Louis’s Stripe paintings is highly complex, selected so that each coloured band engages a tonal push-pull between primary, secondary, and tertiary hues. In Sidle, the primary pillars of red, yellow and blue are offset by secondary tones of forest green and cadmium orange. Intensifying the palette further still, Louis’s colour combinations create almost indescribable tertiary tones of more muted – yet all the more interesting – offshoots of amber, ochre and olive. The effect of such amalgamated tones is that their brilliancy is not hindered by the deep inky black stripe which starts the run of colour to the left of the canvas, but rather is enhanced as a result of this visual weight.
Louis began teaching at the Washington Workshop Center of the Arts in 1952, and here became close friends with fellow instructor and painter, Kenneth Noland. Noland and Louis bonded over a shared enthusiasm for the work of artists including Jackson Pollock and Robert Motherwell and, in April 1953, they visited New York for a weekend trip that would profoundly impact the future trajectory of both their careers. While in New York, Noland introduced Louis to Clement Greenberg, the foremost art critic and essayist of their time. Together, the trio visited a number of galleries and artists’ studios most notably including Helen Frankenthaler’s. This particular visit in 1953 was a transformative experience for Louis and his exposure to Frankenthaler’s staining techniques opened up a realm of new possibilities for the artist. Upon witnessing Frankenthaler’s innovative method of pouring pigment over a flat, unstretched canvas, Louis declared her work as “a bridge between Pollock and what was possible” (Morris Louis cited in: Exh. Cat., New York, The Museum of Modern Art, Morris Louis, 1986, p. 13). For Louis, this realm of possibility meant an absolute abandonment of gestural representation. By soaking the canvas with paint, rather than painting onto its surface, the paint and the canvas became one.
As its title infers, the bands of paint in the present composition seem to slink and sidle down the length of the canvas in accordance with Louis’s technique. Seeking to maintain an even sense of saturated colour throughout the vertical length of each stripe, Louis created the works in this series by carefully pouring a thin ribbon of paint down the surface of the canvas, before employing a long painting stick wrapped with cheesecloth to spread the paint to its desired width, carefully nestling each colour up against its neighbouring stripe. This restrained control and evenness was a direct result of advancements in the chemical makeup of Louis’s paint formula. Illuminated by a valiant energy, Sidle consummates Louis’s most esteemed body of work and endures as a shimmering apotheosis of the artist’s creative genius.
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