Graham Hunter Gallery

81 Baker Street, London

Robert Motherwell

(1915 - 1991) American, New York School



Robert Motherwell (January 24, 1915 – July 16, 1991) American painter, printmaker, and editor. He was one of the youngest of the New York School (a phrase he coined), which also included Philip Guston, Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock, and Mark Rothko. Between 1932 and 1937.

As a young artist, he was introduced to a group of exiled Parisian Surrealists Max Ernst, Duchamp, Masson. Motherwell went on to study with Kurt Seligmann. The time Motherwell spent with the Surrealists proved to be influential to his artistic process. Roberto Matta introduced Motherwell to the concept of “automatic” drawings. The Surrealists often deployed the process of automatism, or abstract “automatic” doodling to tap into their unconscious. This concept had a lasting effect on Motherwell and on other American painters in his circle.
Motherwell spent time developing his creative principle based on automatism:

"what I realized was that Americans potentially could paint like angels but that there was no creative principle around, so that everybody who liked modern art was copying it. Gorky was copying Picasso. Pollock was copying Picasso. De Kooning was copying Picasso. I mean I say this unqualifiedly. I was painting French intimate pictures or whatever. And all we needed was a creative principle, I mean something that would mobilize this capacity to paint in a creative way, and that's what Europe had that we hadn't had; we had always followed in their wake. And I thought of all the possibilities of free association—because I also had a psychoanalytic background and I understood the implications—might be the best chance to really make something entirely new which everybody agreed was the thing to do."

In the early 1940s, Robert Motherwell played a significant role in laying the foundations for the new movement of Abstract Expressionism (or the New York School). From the mid-1940s, Motherwell became the leading spokesman for avant-garde art in America. His circle came to include William Baziotes, David Hare, Barnett Newman, and Mark Rothko.

In 1948, he began to work with his celebrated Elegy to the Spanish Republic theme, which he continued to develop throughout his life. Motherwell intended his Elegies to the Spanish Republic (over 100 paintings, completed between 1948 and 1967) as a "lamentation or funeral song" after the Spanish Civil War. His recurring motif here is a rough black oval, repeated in varying sizes and degrees of compression and distortion. Instead of appearing as holes leading into a deeper space, these light-absorbent blots stand out against a ground of relatively even, predominantly white upright rectangles. They have various associations, but Motherwell himself related them to the display of the dead bull's testicles in the Spanish bullfighting ring.

Throughout the 1950s Motherwell also taught painting at Hunter College in New York and at Black Mountain College in North Carolina. Cy Twombly, Robert Rauschenberg and Kenneth Noland studied under and were influenced by Motherwell. At this time, he was a prolific writer and lecturer, and in addition to directing the influential Documents of Modern Art Series, he edited The Dada Painters and Poets: An Anthology, which was published in 1951.

He was married for the third time, from 1958 to 1971, to Helen Frankenthaler, the equally successful abstract painter.


The gallery maintains a turning stock of quality lithographs, artists posters and prints along with drawings, original paintings and sculpture.

 

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