Color Field (style)

During the 1950s, painters Mark Rothko and Barnett Newman departed from Abstract Expressionism to interpret similar existential themes of self and the universe. Rather than the emotive gestures of Abstract Expressionism, Rothko and Newman experimented with large expanses of color and the margins between them. They continue to be widely recognized as generative color field painters. However, color field artists of the 1960s, such as Helen Frankenthaler and Morris Louis, moved in a new direction. While they retained Rothko and Newman's interest in color, line, and non-representational shapes, they abandoned the idea that art could communicate the truth of the artist's innermost being. Instead, they stressed clarity and openness, favoring the conceptual power of visual or formal problems. Helen Frankenthaler and Morris Louis applied flowing paint to unprimed canvas as if they were staining or dyeing the cloth. The effect of color embedded in large expanses of canvas allowed these artists to create works which seemed to envelop the viewer in a breath of color.

Adapted From:

  • Ken Kelsey, Gail Davitt, Mary Ann Allday, Barbara Barrett, and Troy Smythe, Contemporary Art and Design at the Dallas Museum of Art, Teaching Packet, 1995.

  • Anne Bromberg, "Development of Abstraction," DMA Unpublished material, 1987.

Web Resources

  • Tate
    Explore color field painting's history.