Pale, 1967 signed, titled and dated 'Pale 1967 Kenneth Noland' (on the reverse) acrylic on canvas 98 x 24in. (248.9 x 61cm)
PROVENANCE: Buschlen Mowatt Gallery, Vancouver.
"The thing in color, the thing in painting is to find a way to get color down, to float it, without bogging the painting down in surrealism, cubism or systems of structure... In the best color painting, structure is nowhere evident, or nowhere self-declaring." This is how Kenneth Noland described his interest in color to Philip Leider in 1968 shortly after completing the present lot, Pale, 1967. It is color at its most elemental level that preoccupied and directed the artist since the beginning of his career.
The famed Color Field artist, noted for his "target", "chevron", striped and shaped paintings began his career studying at the famous Black Mountain College in North Carolina. There, he was greatly influenced by the Abstract Expressionists and his early work shows evidence of this. During his studies with his professor Ilya Bolotowsky, Noland was introduced to the work of Neo-Plasticist artist Piet Mondrian and Bauhaus theory and color under Josef Albers. It wasn't until the early 1950s though that he was introduced to his most pivotal influence, Helen Frankenthaler. By this time he had already befriended fellow Color Field painter, Morris Louiswho through his relationship with noted art critic Clement Greenberg arranged for Noland to visit Frankenthaler's studio in New York City in 1953. There in her studio, enthralled and entranced with her latest series of works, Noland learned and adopted her "soak-stain" technique where by paint was allowed to soak and stain into unprimed canvas.
Learning from the Abstract Expressionists, Noland wanted "other kinds of paint, or kinds of canvas, or ways of making pictures that weren't the usual ways ...We [Morris Louis and myself] were making abstract art, but we wanted to simplify the selection of materials, and to use them in a very economical way. To get to raw canvas, to use the canvas unstretched to use it in more basic or fundamental ways, to use it as fabric rather than as a stretched surface" (Noland quoted in conversation with Diane Waldman, "Color, Format and Abstract Art" in Art in America, 65, no 3, MayJune 1977, pp. 99105). From Jackson Pollock and Helen Frankenthaler he learned about paint and canvashow to use it and even how not to use it. Speaking about their influences on him, Noland stated that he was "interested in how Pollock and Helen Frankenthaler were using paint. Of necessity we [himself and Louis] had to get more interested in the stuff of painting. We talked a lot about whether to size the painting or not to size, how to mix up paint. (Noland in conversation with Karen Wilkin, in "Kenneth Noland", Ediciones Poligraga, S. A. Barcelona 1990, p. 14).
This knowledge coupled with the color theory he had gleaned from studying Mondrian and Albers led to his first "target" and "chevron" paintingswhere he began staining square and rectangular canvases with pure color. Although both visually and ideologically quite successful, Noland was not quite satisfied. In a sense he saw these paintings as perhaps too balanced and symmetrical, which took away from the concepts of pure color and color interactions that was the focus of his experimentations. It was then that he began working with uniquely shaped canvases evidenced by Pale, 1967. He asked himself, "what would something be like if it were unbalanced? It's been a vexing question for a long time. But it took the experience of working with radical kinds of symmetry, not just a rectangle, but a diamond shape, as well as extreme extensions of shapes, before I finally came to the idea of everything being unbalanced, nothing vertical, nothing horizontal, nothing parallel. I came to the fact that unbalancing has its own order" (Noland quoted in conversation with Diane Waldman, "Color, Format and Abstract Art" in Art in America, 65, no 3, MayJune 1977, pp. 99105). Thus it could be argued that Noland's most successful compositions, at least in his own opinion, were those created upon shaped canvases, where color is allowed to speak freely for itself.
As noted Noland scholar, Kenworth Moffat stated, "The drive toward pure color, like the impulse to flatness, can be seen as no more than a direct response to function and use. Modern society asks of painting only that it be art, that it fulfill no other need than an aesthetic one. And modern 'authenticity' proscribes that the picture itself declare this fact...The most purely 'optical' and most purely aesthetic pictorial property of all is, color, and this, together with the fact that pictorial color is relatively unexplored territory accounts, I think, for its decisive role in the development of modernist painting. It accounts for the ease with which we can explain this development as a drive toward color" (Kenworth Moffat, Kenneth Noland, New York 1977, p. 32).
"There are two things that go on in art. There's getting to the essential material and a design that's inherent in the use of material, and also an essential level of expressiventess, a precise way of saying something rather than a complicated way" Kenneth Noland ( Kenneth Noland, quoted in "Color, Format and Abstract Art, an Interview by Diane Waldman", in Art in America, no. 3, May-June 1997, pp. 99-105).
Morris Louis Saraband, 1959 acrylic resin on canvas 101 1/8 x 149in. (256.9 x 378.5cm) Solomon R. Guggenheim, New York 64.1685
Image courtesy of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum