1924 - 2010
acrylic on canvas
on verso signed, titled and dated 1970
39 3/4 x 138 3/4 in 101 x 352.4 cm
Estimate: $200,000 - $300,000
Sold for: $205,250
Preview at: PacArt, Toronto
André Emmerich Gallery, New York
Galerie Daniel Templon, Paris
Private Collection, Montreal
Private Collection, Toronto
Kenneth Noland’s paintings are among the most elegant and unabashedly beautiful of their time. They are also among the most abstract, testing the limits of what can be eliminated without compromising interest or eloquence. Noland makes the character and placement of colours independently expressive elements, removed from any connection with a pre-existing image. The powerful associative qualities of various hues, separately and in combination, are made the carriers of profound emotions, but they are detached from specific reference.
Beginning in the late 1950s, when he devised the “Circle” paintings that first established his reputation, Noland worked in series. Stabilizing a few compositional “givens” eliminated the need to invent a new structure for each painting and instead, freed him to explore the many implications of a fruitful idea. What is more important, it allowed him to concentrate on colour relationships, intervals, edges, placement and other nuances. “People talk about colour in the ‘Circles,’ but they are also about scales and juxtapositions,” Noland said. “Making them taught me everything about scale.” There was nothing systematic or programmatic about this way of working, however. Throughout his long artistic career, Noland relied wholeheartedly on improvisation and informed intuition – not surprisingly, since he was a deeply knowledgeable lover of jazz – remaining open to suggestions that arose in the course of working and responding to those suggestions, while giving full rein to his extraordinary ability to invent and orchestrate ravishing, unnamable, eloquent hues.
“I believe in working every day,” Noland said, “and not necessarily repeating one way of working. I like to make something come out of trial-and-error methods – fooling around with mediums and taking the chance of its not coming to anything.” The physical act of making was key to Noland’s approach. “Artists are mechanics who work with their hands, make things,” he maintained. “Artists are involved with the means of creativity, the nature of skills, the revelation of making. Art comes from the work. I see painting as an expressive entity. There’s no picture I know of where the subject carries as much expressive possibility as the actual execution of the picture.”
Noland may have worked in series, but every iteration of a given format was different, and cumulatively, they suggested alternative paths. The loosely brushed early “Circles” became crisp and precise, then solidified into the angled “Chevrons” and “Diamonds,” and then, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, resolved into works such as Erin (1970); these masterly assemblies of parallel bands of colour, known as the “Stripes,” are frankly among Noland’s most gorgeous and compelling paintings.
In the “Stripes,” image and means are inextricably fused. Horizontality always dominates. The length of the stripes determines the horizontal dimension of the painting, while their number, widths and intervals determine the vertical dimension. Some of the “Stripes” are complex stacks of multiple, narrow, regularly arranged bands, while others combine bands of different thicknesses in staccato rhythms, and still others, such as Erin, frame a generous field of a single dominant hue with narrow bands above and below. Noland makes high drama out of proportion and interval, out of whether bands of colour touch or are separated by a sliver of raw canvas. Made in an era when the most inventive young painters, like Noland, sought radically stripped down alternatives to the layering, contingency and elaboration of Abstract Expressionism, the “Stripes” seem straightforward and simple. In fact, they are astonishingly complex, revealing themselves differently when seen from different distances, keeping us endlessly fascinated by the subtlety of their internal proportions and colour relationships, and, above all, stirring our emotions through pure, abstract visual means, the way great music does through sound.
We thank Karen Wilkin, curator, author, critic and teacher of New York Studio School's MFA art history seminars, for contributing the above essay. Wilkin is the author of the Rizzoli monograph Kenneth Noland and has written extensively on the artist.
1. All quotations from Noland are from studio conversations with the author, 1986 - 1988.
Estimate: $200,000 - $300,000
All prices are in Canadian Dollars
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