Artist's Biography - Robert Motherwell
( 1915 - 1991 )
A leader of the Abstract Expressionist movement in New York and the man who introduced the term into the United States, Robert Motherwell was a painter, printmaker, and collage artist. He was also a prolific writer, which also made him the leading literary exponent of the day of Abstract Expressionism.
Included in his output are more than 100 canvases including huge oil paintings, small drawings, and numerous collages. During his long, prolific career, he experimented with a number of abstract styles but generally his painting is structured in a disciplined manner with a tendency towards geometric images.
He was born in Aberdeen, Washington, and in 1926 studied at the Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles and at the California School of Fine Arts in 1932. He took several trips to Europe in the 1930s and 40s and during that time studied philosophy at Harvard University. He settled on the East Coast, primarily in New York City where he took art history at Columbia University and in 1941 briefly studied engraving with Kurt Seligmann and in 1945 at Stanley William Hayter's Atelier 17.
Living in New York, he was deeply influenced by the modernist European painters who gathered there, especially by 1941, the Chilean surrealist Matta Echaurren and the theories of automatism whereby the painting appeared to paint itself, evolving from the unconscious mind of the artist. Motherwell's approach, he called "Plastic Automatism," the creating of images and collages by free association that he later put into more formal compositions. He also experimented with other forms of Abstract art, creating shapes and various combinations of color, but throughout his skill with calligraphy and linear technique was obvious.
A turning point in his career was in 1943 when art patron Peggy Guggenheim asked him and two other American artists to contribute to the first all-collage art show held in the United States. Using paper, scissors and paste, he set to work, finding great satisfaction in this technique. The following year he had his first one man show at the "Art of This Century Gallery," and from that time he has been included in most major exhibitions of Abstract Expressionism.
In 1944, he began the editing of the "Documents of Modern Art" series of books, and he also designed murals including one for the Kennedy Building in Boston, Massachusetts.
He did numerous black and white works including an "Elegy" series for the Spanish Republic. These are a big contrast to his highly colorful collages, some of which in the 1970s were as high as six feet.
In the 1950s and 60s, much of his painting was highly gestural and expressionist, inspired by his own personal emotions, but in the late 1960s, he changed to what has become known as "Color Field" painting, manipulation of pure color in abstract form devoid of personal emotion. Examples of this type of painting are in the Menil Foundation in Houston, Texas, and the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.
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