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Circle - 1958
Acrylic on canvas
Kenneth Noland art is composed of abstract paintings with shapes, pure colors and lines. The energy and contrast of his paintings are unique and devoid of reference to the world outside. With his simple and flat compositions, he led the way in the dawn of Minimalism. He influenced many artists and worked with various modes of abstract painting. Karen Wilkin, the art critic, described Kenneth Noland as “one of the great colorists of the 20th century”.
Born in Asheville, NC on April 10, 1924, Kenneth Noland was one of five siblings, all boys. His love of art was from a young age as his father, a physician by trade, was an amateur artist. After a visit to the National Gallery in Washington and viewing Monet’s work, Kenneth fell in love with visual arts and painting at age 14. His father lent him his art materials and his talent grew.
In 1942 Kenneth Noland graduated high school. The U.S. was taking part in World War II and Noland joined the U.S. Air Force as a cryptographer and glider pilot. He spent time in Turkey and Egypt before returning home. He then enrolled at Black Mountain College which was only 20 miles from his childhood home.
This was a school of art that was very experimental and it has an interdisciplinary approach. Notable artists such as John Cade and Willem de Kooning were among its faculty who insisted all students have a complete art education. This included studying easel painting and sculpture alongside musical composition and dance. During his time at Black Mountain College he studied the geometric abstraction and Neo-Platicism art styles of Piet Mondrian and Paul Klee. This came to influence his own artwork.
After two years at Black Mountain College, Kenneth Noland studied in Paris under Ossip Zadkine, the Russian Sculptor. Noland’s first one-man show was in 1949 at the Galerie Raymond Creuze in the city. His exposure to Matisse during this time really affected his ideas surrounding ‘color structure’.
He returned to the U.S. after spending a year in France and began teaching. From 1949 to 1951, he instructed at Washington D.C.’s Institute of Contemporary Art and then moved to Catholic University between 1951 and 1960. From 1952 until 1956, he also taught classes at the Washington Workshop Center for the Arts.
Noland’s time in Washington D.C. allowed him to develop a friendship with Morris Louis, a fellow artist. They shared a style that followed Abstract Expressionism despite the fact that neither was a first-generation Abstract Expressionist artist.
In his personal life, he married his first wife, Cornelia Langer, in 1951 and went on to divorce and marry three times. In 1967, he married his second wife Stephanie Gordon and in 1970, his third, Peggy Schiffer.
A huge turning point in Kenneth Noland’s career occurred around in 1953. Clement Greenberg, an art critic, took him and Morris Louis to Helen Frankenthaler’s studio in New York. Noland saw her unique oil-pouring technique of Mountains and Sea and this inspired him to abandon his abstract expressionist style. He then began a new series: Target Paintings. These were his breakthrough works and were also called Circle Paintings (c.1950s-1960s).
The early 1960s saw Kenneth Noland art explore the relationships of color and, by 1962, he turned to cleaner edges and colored backdrops. He began to use ovoid shapes, which then progressed to his chevron paintings. The visual focal point of his work also changed to become the innermost circles instead of the outer layers.
The late 1960s saw Noland’s Color Field Painting approach become more reductive while still retaining its boldness. Noland also began using horizontal lines and rectangular canvases, a series he called Stripes (1967-70). In this series, he played with form, scale and color. The compositions were basic with horizontal lines that ran across the width of the canvas.
There was a brief return for Kenneth Noland to chevron paintings in the 70s and 80s. He also experimented with canvases of different shapes and plaid-like patterns. In 1985, he also began teaching again and took a position at Bard College as the Milton Avery Professor of the Arts.
At the turn of the century (c. 1999-2002), Noland started his series of painting Mysteries. In many ways, this was a throwback to his start as a abstract expressionist. He used unprimed canvas and paper with acrylics and painted circular targets. These new target paintings were as bold as his previous ones.
In 1964, after moving to a farm in Vermont, Noland’s works were displayed alongside other artists in an art exhibition in Los Angeles. Later the same year, he was chosen to partake in “Four Germinal Painters”, a show at the United States Pavillion of the 32nd Venice Biennale. Kenneth Noland’s art was hung alongside works by Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg and Morris Louis. In Vermont, he had a close working relationship with Anthony Caro, the British Sculptor, as well as artist Jules Olitski.
Noland spent much of his later years leading a quiet life in Maine. He continued painting right until his final days. He died from cancer at 85 in 2010. He was survived by his 4th wife Paige Rense, Architectural Digest’s editor in chief, and his two sons and two daughters.