Color Field Painting has taken off with flying colors, again.
The resilient spin-off of Abstract Expressionism originally emerged in New York City during 1940’s at the direction of painters such as Mark Rothko and Barnett Newman. As the name suggests, Color Field Painting is characterized by its canvas-filling expanses of color. It was, at its inception, an almost exceedingly self-sustaining and self-evident reaction to postwar anxiety.
But in the world of today – a world that is post-postwar and post-post painterly abstraction – this emphatically chromatic style has resurged with relevance.
It is, perhaps, the movement’s original mission that gives Color Field Painting its built-to-last longevity. The Color Field goal was this: to create art that reconnects the modern world with the primordial, mythic past through an infinite, color-coded trip to transcendence.
These mythic and transcendent truths are suggested not stated through raw color. Using the expressive and symbolic power of color rooted in mythic power, art becomes a mode of referential escapism.
By looking at the new art of today through the prism of Color Field Painting, we allow the paintings to field big questions.
So, with the scope of deep-history diving and the spirit of modern-myth hunting, let’s take a look at 5 of our newest Color Fields:
Lisa Carney taps directly into the deep history pursued by the earliest Color Field Painters. She is fascinated by the earth’s crust and composition. The red line that divides the canvas invokes the layers of the earth, in all its fissures and fractures. In this way, GeoHorizon 79 becomes the geological, earthy spin-off of the movement. Interestingly enough, Lisa even sites both Mark Rothko and Barrett Newman two of her most admired artists.
Glow is simultaneously a radiating smolder and a calm orange meditation. The orange color – like geothermal heat, molten rock, glowing planetary bodies, or an eclipsing cosmos – evokes both extremes of the timeline. Heidi’s orange radiates outwardly and smoothly into its contrasting counterpart, dark blue. The soft edges of the fading color provide a subtlety that opposes the squareness of canvas.
As the title suggests, Spaces in my Mind is an inscape of artist Wietzie Gerber’s mind. The complex brainwork is abstracted into geometrical forms that interlock, interact, and dissolve. The liveliness of the composition’s oranges and pinks is balanced by the cool greys, creating a harmonious meditation on the surface of the canvas. Where Color Field Paintings of the mid-20th Century are often associated with an unmodulated surface, Wietzie’s painting is sumptuous in its texture. The stippled surface is rendered by her signature palette knife technique.
Contemplative, enveloping, dichromatic, the acrylic painting invokes a spiritual experience that makes it next to impossible to not be absorbed into Clearing in the Fields. The foggy blue-gray tone is delightfully clever; it is the literal gray area between abstract and landscape painting. Fog impersonates color. The openness of the scene compared to the infinitesimal smallness of an individual, places the viewer in a (truly) mystified perspectival awe.
Alicia Dunn’s mellow and dreamy painting is an introspective exploration in color. The pigments – smoky grays, creamy pinks, and antiqued blues – assuage the eye into a harmonious escape. The work, as underscored by the title, Inscribed in My Soul, is a psychological portrait that plunges into the emotional depths of the individual soul. Without the aid of any figurative references, Alicia masterfully manages to create an intimate and personal model of existence.
These works, along with several others, bring the aesthetic of Color Field Painting into the contemporary world in their various ways. Some values – such as the emphasis of color, eclipsed representation, and simplified shapes – have remained virtually unmodified through the years. However, other aspects – such as modulated textures and natural references – make the Color Field Paintings of today distinctly contemporary.
Perhaps finding a modern myth is really an urban legend. But this reawakened popularity makes us wonder…maybe not?