Newman, Barnett

Newman, Barnett Biography

American painter associated with the abstract expressionists and a prominent exponent of color-field painting. Barnett Newman is best known for his simplified canvases in which a large block of color, or color-field, is broken by one or more vertical lines.

The son of Polish immigrants, Barnett Newman studied at New York City's Art Students League (1922-26) and at the City College of New York, from which he graduated in 1927. He worked in his father's clothing business in the 1930s and gradually began oil painting full-time. With the painters William Baziotes, Robert Motherwell, and Mark Rothko, he cofounded the school called "Subject of the Artist" (1948), which held open sessions and lectures for other artists.

In his early art works of the 1940s, Barnett Newman attempted to reject contemporary American and European influences; his arrangements of loose vertical and horizontal lines and circular forms were intended as representations of surfaces and voids. In 1948, with Onement I (Newman Collection, New York City), he restricted himself to a solid-color canvas broken by a single contrasting vertical band, a format he would use again. By treating the band of color not as a sharply defined stripe but as a rough-edged strip, Barnett Newman attempted to create a sense of tension on the canvas, as though the main color-field was ripped or torn apart by the ascending vertical. Newman also exploited the impact of the size of his canvases; some of his works were so large that they filled the viewer's field of vision.

Barnett Newman's first one-man show, held in New York City in 1950, aroused hostility and incomprehension, but by the late 1950s and '60s his work had influenced Ad Reinhardt, Clyfford Still, and such younger artists as Frank Stella and Larry Poons. Barnett Newman's series of 14 oil paintings called Stations of the Cross, exhibited at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York City, in 1966, fully established his reputation. His artwork strongly influenced other abstract expressionist painters.

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