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Lost in Form, Found in Line: An Exhibition of Works by Robert Motherwell

By Johnson, Mark M. | Arts & Activities, October 2009 | Go to article overview

Lost in Form, Found in Line: An Exhibition of Works by Robert Motherwell


Johnson, Mark M., Arts & Activities


Robert Motherwell (1915-1991) is universally regarded as one of the most important painters and printmakers of the mid-20th century, and was a prominent figure in the movement known as Abstract Expressionism.

Born and raised on the West Coast, he studied at the Otis Art Institute and the California School of Fine Arts, before receiving his degree from Stanford University. In his early 20s he continued his studies in philosophy, esthetics and art history at Harvard University and Columbia University. These studies, along with his travels in Europe, allowed Motherwell to develop associations with numerous contemporary abstract and surrealist artists through which he gained a European perspective on art.

Motherwell wanted to link American abstractionism to 20th-century European ideas and traditions. He was one of the founders of the Abstract Expessionist movement, and he was strongly influenced by surrealist theories, especially the principle of automatism, an artistic approach in which the artist allows the unconscious to direct the work.

By 1942 the artist settled in New York City, and began his professional career in painting. As an abstract painter, he was the youngest member of the New York School that also included such renowned artists as Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning and Mark Rothko, among others. Interestingly, Motherwell was unique among most of his colleagues as he started his career as an abstractionist and remained so all of his life.

From early in his career this prolific painter was also interested in the use of paper for drawings, monotypes, collages and prints. At first, he produced an occasional print, but by the 1960s, with the establishment of several important print workshops in New York City, Motherwell began a collaboration with all the major workshops.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

For the next 30 years, Motherwell's painting style found a new mode of expression in a variety of printmaking techniques. The prints very successfully complement the subjects and compositions of the paintings, and are able to convey the same sense of gesture and immediacy that are the hallmarks of his best paintings.

Most people who view an artist's work have no visual image of the artist's studio life, thereby missing an often-critical reference to his or her creative development.

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Lost in Form, Found in Line: An Exhibition of Works by Robert Motherwell
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