Kenneth Noland
Biography of Abstract Expressionist Painter.

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Drought (1962, Tate Modern)
By Kenneth Noland. An example
of non-objective art.

Kenneth Noland (b.1924)


Early Life and Teaching
Colour Field Painting
Target Paintings
Chevrons and Stripes
Post-Painterly Abstraction
Later Years

Paintings by Kenneth Noland
are also widely available online
in the form of poster art.

For top creative practitioners, see:
Best Artists of All Time.

For an explanation of the
terminology, see:
Art: Definition and Meaning.


The American painter Kenneth Noland is associated with a number of American abstract art movements, including: the Washington Colour Painters, a mini school of Abstract Expressionism, whose paintings focus above all on the relationship between colour and structure; Colour Field Painting - the reaction against gesturalism - and Hard Edge Painting, the geometric offshoot; and Minimalism. During the 1950s and 60s, inspired by Helen Frankenthaler (b.1928) and Morris Louis (1912-62), Noland began producing 'stain' paintings. After a while however, he began to introduce into his work a target-like motif of concentric coloured rings, as a container for precisely-judged relationships of colour - a design which followed in the tradition of Robert Delaunay and Orphism, as well as the Homage to the Square pictures by Josef Albers (1888-1976). Noland's 'Target' series was followed by another featuring 'Chevron' motifs, and also by a number of long narrow pictures painted with brilliant horizontal stripes, leading to a style of minimalism reminiscent of the concrete art of Piet Mondrian. In 1964, Noland - along with other abstract painters including Jules Olitski (b.1922), Ellsworth Kelly (b.1923), Al Held (b.1928) Helen Frankenthaler (b.1928) and Frank Stella (b.1936) - was labelled a member of Post-Painterly Abstraction, by the critic Clement Greenberg (1909-94).



Early Life and Teaching

Noland was born in Asheville, North Carolina,the son of an amateur painter. After graduating from High School in 1942, he joined the Air Force for four years before returning to study at Black Mountain College (1946-1948), the famous centre of avant-garde art not far from his home. After learning drawing and oil painting, in 1948 he travelled to Paris, France, where he studied under the Russian sculptor Ossip Zadkine (1890-1967), and was introduced to the colourism of Henri Matisse (1869-1954).

After a year in Paris, Noland returned home to America and started his teaching career. From 1949 to 1951 he taught fine art painting at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Washington DC, and from 1951 to 1960 he taught at the Catholic University in DC. During the period 1952-1956, he also lectured at the Washington Workshop Center for the Arts.



Colour Field Painting

During his training at Black Mountain College in 1947-8 and again in the summer of 1950, Noland was influenced by the abstract art of former Bauhaus instructor Josef Albers and Professor Ilya Bolotowsky. During the 1950s, Noland encountered the eminent art critic Clement Greenberg, the modernist sculptor David Smith (1906-65), and the Abstract Expressionist painters Helen Frankenthaler and Morris Louis, all of whom had a significant impact on his artistic development, but especially Frankenthaler's Mountains and Sea (1952, National Gallery of Art, Washington DC). He began by experimenting with Frankenthaler's technique of stain painting: that is, the application of highly thinned acrylic paint to unprimed canvas, in order to fuse colour and material. He, along with Frankenthaler and Louis, quickly formed the basis of the Colour Field painting style - part of an anti-gesturalist style of painting characterized by large expanses of colour which Greenberg later dubbed Post-Painterly Abstraction.

Target Paintings

However, by the late 1950s, Noland started to employ centralized circular motifs - at first, relatively soft-focus; then much sharper. By 1960, the motifs had become crisp, target-shaped concentric circles of contrasting colours on a square canvas. These Targets, sometimes called Circles, were his key signature works.

Chevrons and Stripes

During the 1960s and 70s, they were followed by a more ambitious range of differing geometric motifs, such as Chevrons, and later by minimalist striped patterns on lozenge and rectilinear-shaped canvases. These abstract paintings were designed (1) to explore human emotional reaction to various colour combinations, without distracting the viewer with unnecessary content, or narrative; and (2) to create a sense of movement on the canvas, thus creating an ultra-primitive life form.

Post-Painterly Abstraction

In 1964 when curating an exhibition of Post-Abstract Expressionist paintings at the Los Angeles Country Museum of Art, Clement Greenberg selected works by modern artists such as: Noland, Jules Olitski, Ellsworth Kelly, Helen Frankenthaler, Jack Bush, Morris Louis and Frank Stella, among others, and entitled the show "Post-Painterly Abstraction." Later in 1964, Noland was selected to represent the United States at the 32nd Venice Biennale alongside stars like Jasper Johns (b.1930) and Robert Rauschenberg (1925-2008).

Later Years

In 1977, as evidence of his growing status within contemporary American art, the Guggenheim Museum New York staged Kenneth Noland: A Retrospective - which was the first major showing of Noland's work. From New York it travelled to the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden and the Corcoran Gallery of Art, both in Washington, DC, and thence to the Toledo Museum of Art in Ohio.

In the 1970s and 80s, Noland briefly revisited his earlier style of Chevrons, and also experimented with a number of plaid motifs. In addition, he completed a series of shaped canvases. In 1985 he accepted the post of Milton Avery Professor of Art at Bard College. His final project has involved a return to his symmetrical Targets. This style of acrylic painting was as always, visually bold though devoid of all meaning or narrative, and sums up his quest to combine Mondrian-geometrics and Albers-colourism in an attempt to uncover the relationship between colour and form.

20th-Century paintings by Kenneth Noland can be seen in a number of the best art museums around the world, including the Solomon R Guggenheim Museum, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) New York, and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington DC.

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