Color Field 1948 – 1968

Term referring to the work of such Abstract Expressionists as Barnett Newman, Mark Rothko, and Clyfford Still and to various subsequent American painters, including Morris Louis, Kenneth Noland, Frank Stella, Jules Olitski, and Helen Frankenthaler The popularity of the concept stemmed largely from Clement Greenberg’s formalist art criticism, especially his essay ‘American-type Painting’, written in 1955 for Partisan Review, which implied that Still, Newman, and Rothko had consummated a tendency in modernist painting to apply colour in large areas or ‘fields’ This notion became increasingly widespread and doctrinaire in later interpretations of abstract impressionism, until the movement was effectively divided into ‘gesturalist’ and ‘colour field’ styles despite the narrow and somewhat misleading overtones of each category
Among the main characteristics of Abstract Expressionist colour field painting are its use of hues close in tonal value and intensity, its radically simplified compositions, and the choice of very large formats

Color Field painting is a style of abstract painting that emerged in New York City during the 1940s and 1950s It was inspired by European modernism and closely related to Abstract Expressionism, while many of its notable early proponents were among the pioneering Abstract Expressionists Color Field is characterized primarily by large fields of flat, solid color spread across or stained into the canvas creating areas of unbroken surface and a flat picture plane The movement places less emphasis on gesture, brushstrokes and action in favour of an overall consistency of form and process In color field painting “color is freed from objective context and becomes the subject in itself”

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By the late 1950s and early 1960s young artists began to break away stylistically from abstract expressionism; experimenting with new ways of making pictures; and new ways of handling paint and color In the early 1960s several and various new movements in abstract painting were closely related to each other, and superficially were categorized together; although they turned out to be profoundly different in the long run Some of the new styles and movements that appeared in the early 1960s as responses to abstract expressionism were called: Washington Color School, Hard-edge painting, Geometric abstraction, Minimalism, and Color Field

Color Field painting is related to Post-painterly abstraction, Suprematism, Abstract Expressionism, Hard-edge painting and Lyrical Abstraction It initially referred to a particular type of abstract expressionism, especially the work of Mark Rothko, Clyfford Still, Barnett Newman, Robert Motherwell, Adolph Gottlieb and several series of paintings by Joan Miró Art critic Clement Greenberg perceived Color Field painting as related to but different from Action painting

An important distinction that made color field painting different from abstract expression was the paint handling The most basic fundamental defining technique of painting is application of paint and the color field painters revolutionized the way paint could be effectively applied

In distinction to the emotional energy and gestural surface marks and paint handling of Abstract Expressionists such as Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning, Color Field painting initially appeared to be cool and austere Color field painters efface the individual mark in favor of large, flat, stained and soaked areas of color, considered to be the essential nature of visual abstraction along with the actual shape of the canvas, which Frank Stella in particular achieved in unusual ways with combinations of curved and straight edges However, Color Field painting has proven to be both sensual and deeply expressive albeit in a different way from gestural Abstract expressionism