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Barnett Newman
Onement 1, 1948. Museum of Modern Art, New York. The first example of Newman using the so-called "zip" to define the spatial structure of his paintings
Born January 25, 1905(1905-01-25)
New York City, New York
Died July 4, 1970 (aged 65)
Nationality American
Field Painting
Movement Abstract Expressionism, Color Field painting
Works The Stations of the Cross, Vir Heroicus Sublimis

Barnett Newman (January 29 1905 – July 4 1970) was an American artist. He is seen as one of the major figures in abstract expressionism and one of the foremost of the color field painters.



Newman was born in New York City, the son of Jewish immigrants from Russian Poland.[1] He studied philosophy at the City College of New York and worked in his father's business manufacturing clothing.[1] From the 1930s he made paintings, said to be in an expressionist style, but eventually destroyed all these works.

A well respected writer and critic who also organized exhibitions and wrote catalogs, Newman later became a member of the Uptown Group.


What is the explanation of the seemingly insane drive of man to be painter and poet if it is not an act of defiance against mans fall and an assertion that he return to the Garden of Eden? For the artists are the first men.
— Barnett Newman [2]

Barnett Newman wrote catalogue forewords and reviews before having his first solo show at the Betty Parsons Gallery in 1948. Soon after his first exhibition, Newman remarked in one of the Artists' Session at Studio 35: "We are in the process of making the world, to a certain extent, in our own image."[3] Utilizing his writing skills, Newman fought every step of the way to reinforce his newly established image as an artist and to promote his work. An example is his letter in April 9, 1955, "Letter to Sidney Janis: ---It is true that Rothko talks the fighter. He fights, however, to submit to the philistine world. My struggle against bourgeois society has involved the total rejection of it."[4]

Throughout the 1940s he worked in a surrealist vein before developing his mature style. This is characterised by areas of color separated by thin vertical lines, or "zips" as Newman called them. In the first works featuring zips, the color fields are variegated, but later the colors are pure and flat. Newman himself thought that he reached his fully mature style with the Onement series (from 1948). The zips define the spatial structure of the painting, whilst simultaneously dividing and uniting the composition.

The zip remained a constant feature of Newman's work throughout his life. In some paintings of the 1950s, such as The Wild, which is eight feet tall by one and a half inches wide, the zip is all there is to the work. Newman also made a few sculptures which are essentially three-dimensional zips.

Although Newman's paintings appear to be purely abstract, and many of them were originally untitled, the names he later gave them hinted at specific subjects being addressed, often with a Jewish theme. Two paintings from the early 1950s, for example, are called Adam and Eve (see Adam and Eve), and there is also Uriel (1954) and Abraham (1949), a very dark painting, which as well as being the name of a biblical patriarch, was also the name of Newman's father, who had died in 1947.

Who's Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue?, 1966. Typical of Newman's later work, with the use of pure and vibrant color.

The Stations of the Cross series of black and white paintings (1958-66), begun shortly after Newman had recovered from a heart attack, is usually regarded as the peak of his achievement. The series is subtitled "Lema sabachthani" - "why have you forsaken me" - words spoken by Christ on the cross. Newman saw these words as having universal significance in his own time. The series has also been seen as a memorial to the victims of the holocaust.

Newman's late works, such as the Who's Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue series, use vibrant, pure colors, often on very large canvases - Anna's Light (1968), named in memory of his mother who had died in 1965, is his largest work, twenty-eight feet wide by nine feet tall. Newman also worked on shaped canvases late in life, with Chartres (1969), for example, being triangular, and returned to sculpture, making a small number of sleek pieces in steel. These later paintings are executed in acrylic paint rather than the oil paint of earlier pieces. Of his sculptures, Broken Obelisk (1968) is the most monumental and best-known, depicting an inverted obelisk whose point balances on the apex of a pyramid.

Newman also made a series of lithographs, the 18 Cantos (1963-64) which, according to Newman, are meant to be evocative of music. He also made a small number of etchings.

Newman is generally classified as an abstract expressionist on account of his working in New York City in the 1950s, associating with other artists of the group and developing an abstract style which owed little or nothing to European art. However, his rejection of the expressive brushwork employed by other abstract expressionists such as Clyfford Still and Mark Rothko, and his use of hard-edged areas of flat color, can be seen as a precursor to post painterly abstraction and the minimalist works of artists such as Frank Stella.

Newman was unappreciated as an artist for much of his life, being overlooked in favour of more colorful characters such as Jackson Pollock. The influential critic Clement Greenberg wrote enthusiastically about him, but it was not until the end of his life that he began to be taken really seriously. He was, however, an important influence on many younger painters.

Newman died in New York City of a heart attack in 1970.[1]

Nine years after his death, Newman's widow Annalee founded the Barnett Newman Foundation. The Foundation not only functions as his official Estate, but also serves "to encourage the study and understanding of Barnett Newman's life and works."[5] The Foundation was instrumental in creating Newman's Catalogue Raisonne in 2004.[6] The U.S. copyright representative for the Barnett Newman Foundation is the Artists Rights Society[7].

See also



  1. ^ a b c The Barnett Newman Foundation website: Chronology of the Artist's Life page
  2. ^ Abstract Expressionism, by Barbara Hess, Taschen, 2005, pg 40
  3. ^ Barnett Newman Selected Writings and Interviews, (ed.) by John P. O'Neill, pgs.: 240-241, University of California Press, 1990.
  4. ^ Barnett Newman Selected Writings and Interviews, (ed.) by John P. O'Neill, p.: 201, University of California Press, 1990).
  5. ^ The Barnett Newman Foundation website: About the Foundation page
  6. ^ The Barnett Newman Foundation website: Catalogue Raisonne page
  7. ^ Most frequently requested artists list of the Artists Rights Society

External links



Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Barnett Newman (29 January 19054 July 1970) was an American artist. He is seen as one of the major figures in abstract expressionism and one of the foremost of the color field painters.


  • The Abuse of Beauty: Aesthetics and the Concept of Art, By Arthur Coleman Danto, p.1, Published by Open Court Publishing, 2003, ISBN 0812695402, 9780812695403
  • Painting, like passion, is a living voice, which, when I hear it, I must let it speak, unfettered.
  • American Abstract Expressionism of the 1950s An Illustrated Survey, p.250, Herskovic, Marika; nyschoolpress, 2003, ISBN 0-9677994-1-4
  • 1. To us art is an adventure into an unknown world, which can be explored only by those willing to take the risks.
  • 2. This world of imagination is fancy-free and violently opposed to common sense.
  • 3. It is our function as artists to make the spectator see the world our way not his way.
  • 4. We favor the simple expression of the complex thought. We are for the large shape because it has the impact of the unequivocal. We wish to reassert the picture plane. We are for flat forms because they destroy illusion and reveal truth.
  • 5. It is a widely accepted notion among painters that it does not matter what one paints as long as it is well painted. (Rothko said this is the essence of academicism.)
  • 6. There is no such thing as a good painting about nothing.
  • 7. We assert that the subject is crucial and only that subject matter is valid which is tragic and timeless. That is why we profess spiritual kinship with primitive and archaic art.


  • It is as I work that the work itself begins to have an effect on me. Just as I affect the canvas,so does the canvas affect me.
  • The sublime is now.The image we produce is the self evident one of revelation,real and concrete,that can be understood by anyone who will look at it without the nostalgic glasses of history.
  • The issue is one of scale, and scale is a felt thing.
    • On the size of his paintings
  • My zip is a field that brings life to the other fields, just as the other fields bring life to this so-called line.
    • On the vertical stripe in many of his paintings
  • We are creating images whose reality is self evident and which are devoid of the props and crutches that evoke associations with out-moded images, both sublime and beautiful.
  • What is the explanation of the seemingly insane drive of man to be painter or poet if it is not an act of defiance against man' fall and an assertion that he return to the Adam of the Garden of Eden.For artists are the first men.

External links

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