Kenneth Noland was an American abstract painter whose works of art adorn many of the world’s best museums and galleries including the Solomon R Guggenheim Museum, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. His minimalistic and abstract paintings played with the relationship between form and color and ushered a new wave of expressionism. He was not an accidental painter but received formal training and experience with some of the most well-known artists of the time. Most of his paintings were targets, chevrons, stripes, and shaped canvases. With these four motifs, he created a wide range of art that dabbled in different colors. Both symmetrical and asymmetrical forms found favor with him and he embraced them beautifully. His aim was to splash the canvas with color and not dilute it with brush strokes. For him, art was always about the art, not the artist. Throughout his life, he held many teaching positions and passed on his wisdom to other budding artists. He helped establish the “Washington Color School” movement. His entire life was dedicated to his art and he spent his final days in his studio. His children became artists in their own right and continue to spread his colorful legacy.
- Kenneth Clifton Noland was born on April 10, 1924, in Asheville, North Carolina. His parents were pathologist Harry Caswell Noland and Bessie Noland.He was one of five siblings, David, Bill, Neil, and Harry Jr. He described his father as an amateur painter who instilled the love of the arts and painting in him.He completed high school in 1942 and later attended Black Mountain College for two years near his hometown. At Black Mountain, he studied color theory and contrasts of negative space, and geometric abstraction.In 1948, he traveled to Paris to study under Russian sculptor, OssipZadkine. He would later go on to rebel against cubist teachings focusing on simplicity and form.Career
- Uunder the guidance of Zadkine in 1949, he had his first one-person exhibition of his paintings in France at the Galerie Raymond Creuze.Noland began his career as a teacher. After his education in Paris, he returned to America and began teaching fine arts at the “Institute of Contemporary Art” in Washington DC. He taught there for 3 years from 1949 to 1951.In the summer of 1950, he met artist Helen Frankenthaler and critic, Clement Greenberg. Both of them would become his greatest supporters. This meeting was a turning point in his career as it helped him develop his artistic style.His meeting with Helen Frankenthaler enabled him to adopt her “soak-stain” techniques into his own canvases. During his period at the Washington Workshop Center for the Arts in DC, he met Morris Louis, another artist in his league.From 1951 to 1960, he taught at the “Catholic University” in Washington DC. He also taught at the “Washington Workshop Center for the Arts” from 1952 to 1956.By the late 1950s, he was creating centralized circular motifs that sharpened with every new brush stroke. Shape-wise there wasn’t any variety but the vivid hues caught the attention of many. The staining technique kept the colors disembodied and purely optical adding to the mystique and intrigue of his paintings.He created his art in series. He kept the motif similar and experimented with colors. He took his art and skill to New York City in 1961.He moved on from targets to chevrons in 1962. Keeping the essence of his work similar but changing the motifs, he created dramatic pieces that were exhibited at the Venice Biennale in 1964. At this time, he and Louis along with other painters came to be known as the “Washington Color Painters” and he was included among artists known as the post-painterly abstractionists.In 1965, he received a retrospective at the Jewish Museum. He pioneered the shaped canvas and used it extensively in his works. These shaped canvases helped to create a complex and sophisticated series of art.Between 1967 and 1970, he created a series called “Stripes” that used rectangular canvases and chevron motifs. This included parallel lines that covered the entire canvas with varying degrees of widths and colors.In 1977, the Guggenheim Museum in New York staged his first major show, “Kenneth Noland: A Retrospective”. This show traveled to various galleries namely Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Corcoran Gallery of Art, and Toledo Museum of Art. He was also elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters.He expanded his artistry to plaids and more chevrons with thicker paint in the 1980s. He became a Milton Avery Professor of Art at Bard College in 1985. Since then, he was a member of the Board of Trustees at Bennington College.“Kenneth Noland at Leo Castelli” was an exhibition of 35 years of his work that was staged at New York. It included his target paintings from the 1960s to his “Flare” and “Flow” series from the 1990s.He continued teaching till he retired in 1997 and then dedicated his time to his paintings that were a beautiful amalgamation of color and form.In 1999, he began to work on his “Mysteries” series of paintings. It was a throwback to his initial years as a formalist abstractionist. He went back to painting symmetrical targets with bold colors and reaffirmed their relevance to modernism.Major Works
- “Beginning” (1958) was one of his earliest paintings that depicted a bull’s eye using an unlikely combination of colors. His belief was that any piece should be about the art and not the artist. During this period, he created a series of art that were similar to targets.He indulged in creating many geometric abstracts such as “Baba Yagga” (1964) and “Galore” (1966).Awards & Achievements
- In 1995, he was presented with the “North Carolina Award” in Fine Arts, the highest civilian honor bestowed by North Carolina.In 1997 he was awarded an honorary “Doctor of Fine Arts” degree from Davidson College, Davidson, North Carolina.Personal Life & Legacy
- Kenneth Noland was married four times. His first wife was the daughter of U.S. senator William Langer. The couple had three children, Cady, Lyndon, and William. They divorced soon after.He had an affair with artist and socialite Mary Pinchot Meyer in the 1960s.In April 1967, he married psychologist Stephanie Gordon. He and Stephanie lived together for three years before marrying. They divorced three years after in June 1970.Art historian Peggy L. Schiffer became his third wife in 1970. Together, they had a son, Samuel Jesse.He married Paige Rense, an editor on April 10, 1994.He passed away on January 5, 2010, in Maine, USA at the age of 85. The cause of death was kidney cancer.Trivia
- Writer and artist Michael Fallon claimed that Billie Ruth Sinclair, his grandmother was married to Noland. This is yet to be ascertained.His children have inherited his artistry and made careers out of it. Cady is an installation artist and sculptor, Lyndon and William are also sculptors. In addition to this, Lyndon is a camerawoman and William is a photographer and professor of visual arts at Duke University.
See the events in life of Kenneth Noland in Chronological Order
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