Kenneth Noland

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Kenneth Noland (10 April 19245 January 2010) was an American abstract painter. He was one of the best-known American Color Field painters, although in the 1950's he was thought of as an abstract expressionist and in the early 1960's he was thought of as a minimalist painter. Noland helped establish the w:Washington Color School movement. His work was early influenced by Helen Frankenthaler and her so-called soak-method.

Quotes of Kenneth Noland[edit]

sorted chronologically, after date of the quotes of Kenneth Noland
  • We [his art-friend & painter Morris Louis and Noland himself] were interested in Pollock but could gain no lead from him. He was too personal. But Frankenthaler showed us a way – a way to think about and use, color..
    • from: Abstract Art, Anna Moszynska; Thames and Hudson 1990, p. 194

'Color, Format and Abstract Art' (1977)[edit]

Quotes of Noland, from: 'Color, Format and Abstract Art', an interview by Diane Waldman in Art in America 65, no 3, May – June 1977
  • I think that we [= Morris Louis and Noland] realized that you didn't have to assert yourself as a personality in order to be personally expressive. We felt that we could deal solely with aesthetic issues, with the meaning of abstraction, without sacrificing individuality – or quality.
    • pp. 99 – 105
  • But there was something else that the Abstract Expressionists taught us: they began to use something besides the conventional means of art; to want other kinds of paint, or kinds of canvas, or ways of making pictures that weren't the usual ways. Some of the next generation, the Pop Art artists [like Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol, picked up this attitude and began to put actual things into art. We [=w:Morris Louis and Noland] were making abstract art, but we wanted to simplify the selection of materials, and to use them in a very economical way. To get to raw canvas, to use the canvas un-stretched – to use it in more basic or fundamental ways, to use it as fabric rather than as a stretched surface.
    • pp. 99 – 105
  • There are two things that go on in art. There's getting to the essential material and a design that's inherent in the use of material, and also an essential level of expressiveness, a precise way of saying something rather than a complicated way.
    • pp. 99 – 105
  • It's been on my mind – what would something be like if it were unbalanced? It's been a vexing question for a long time. But it took the experience of working with radical kinds of symmetry, not just a rectangle, but a diamond shape, as well as extreme extensions of shapes, before I finally came to the idea of everything being unbalanced, nothing vertical, nothing horizontal, nothing parallel. I came to the fact that unbalancing has its own order. In a peculiar way, it can still end up feeling symmetrical. I don't know but what the very nature of our response to art is experienced symmetrically.
    • pp. 99 – 105
  • Tony Cairo [English abstract sculptor] and I tried to collaborate at several points and it hasn't been successful. As a matter of fact, recently Tony has made sculpture that I have painted. He has to make the sculpture before I can paint it. That means that the form is taking precedence – that the material takes precedence as a form, rather than color establishing the form. It's not going to well but I'm working on it. There's something about color that is so abstract that it is difficult for it to function in conjunction with solid form.. .Color has properties of weight, density, transparency, and so forth. And when it also has to be compatible with things that have an actual density, a given form, it's very difficult.
    • pp. 99 – 105
  • We tend to discount a lot of meaning that goes on in life that's non-verbal. Color can convey a total range of mood and expression, of one's experience in life, without having to give it descriptive or literary qualities.
    • pp. 99 – 105
  • It's a simple fact, when you move from one color space to another color space, that if there's a value contrast you get a strong optical illusion. Strong value contrast can be expressive and dramatic. Like the difference between high or low volume or the low key and the high keys on the piano.. .Actually, if you're moving from one flat color to another flat color, if there's a difference of color – if one is matte and the other is shiny – that contrast of tactility can keep them visually in the same dimension. It keeps them adjacent – side by side.. .Another reason is that a matte color and a shiny, transparent color are emotionally different. If something is warm and fuzzy and dense we have a kind of emotional response to that. If something is clear and you can see through it, like yellow or green or red can be, we have a different emotional sensation from that. So there's an expressive difference you can get that gives you more expressive range.
    • pp. 99 – 105
  • It turns out that certain picture shapes don't allow you to use different kinds of quantity distributions of color for different expressions. The quantities and configurations of colors are as important as the colors themselves. When I first started painting circles, I went fairly quickly to a 6-foot square module. I think de Kooning said in an interview or artist's discussion that he only wanted to make gestures as big as his arm could reach. It struck me that he was saying this physical size had to do with the expressive size of the pictures he wanted to make. And as far as I know, when I got to the 6-foot square size, it was right in terms of myself and wasn't too much of a field. Or it was a field, yet it was still physical. And that's why I used it for so long.
    • pp. 99 – 105
  • Most all the chevrons [his series of [1] paintings] and a majority of the circles are 6 feet square. Then, from having chosen that size, I could work in many different scales – I could make the different bands of the circles smaller or larger, or thinner or wider, which would change the internal scale of the works. Later I varied the size of the shapes themselves; sometimes I would make 3-foot, 4-foot, 7-foot, 8-foot, 9-foot and up to 10-foot sizes. It made it possible to vary all different degrees of size along with differences of scale. Those decisions began to influence all my later work. The horizontal paintings where the ones where I varied the formats the most – I made them extremely long or fat or square, varying the sizes and scales, to put everything through permutations. That was a very liberating thing. And that, I guess, really has to do with cropping, also.
    • pp. 99 – 105
  • These things [cutting, cropping and shaping] always happen in strange ways. You can say after the fact what you're doing, but, believe me, you can't project it ahead. It has to be worked through before you can recognize what it was that you were looking for. It's a search; it's not like getting a brainstorm.. .It's work, yes; it comes out of the practice of painting, the practice of your art.
    • pp. 99 – 105

'Conversation with Karen Wilkin' (1986-1988)[edit]

Quotes of Noland, from: a 'Conversation with Karen Wilkin', (1986-1988); as cited in Kenneth Noland, Karen Wilkin, Ediciones Poligrafa, S.A. Barcelona, Spain, 1990
  • Until Abstract Expressionism you had to have something to paint about, some kind of subject matter. Even though Kandinsky and w:Arthur Dove were improvising earlier, it didn't take. They had to have symbols, suggested natural images or geometry, which was something real structurally. That gave them something to paint about. What was new was the idea that something you looked at could be like something you heard.
    • Kenneth Noland, p. 8
  • I knew what a circle could do. Both eyes focus on it. It stamps itself out, like a dot. This, in turn, causes one's vision to spread, as in a mandala in Tantric art.
    • Kenneth Noland, p. 8
  • I believe in working every day, and not necessarily repeating one way of working. I like to make something come out of trial and error methods – fooling around with mediums and taking the chance of its not coming to everything.
    • Kenneth Noland, p. 9
  • Artists are mechanics who work with their hands, making things. Artists are involved with the means of creativity, the nature of skills, the revelation of making. Art comes from the work, I see a painting as an expressive entity. There's no picture that I know of where the subject carries as much expressive possibility as the actual execution of the picture.
    • Kenneth Noland, p. 9
  • One of my grandfathers was a blacksmith, and all the plumbers and carpenters and electricians, people who did things with their hands, thought of themselves as artists because they were good at doing things. They were proud of their making things.
    • Kenneth Noland, p. 9
  • I have to work things out by painting them. I can't just imagine what will happen. I have to do it and see it. That's the only way I find out if it will go anywhere.
    • Kenneth Noland, p. 9
  • I had to find a way in each picture to change the drawing, shaping and tactile qualities to make these elements expressive; as the color had subsumed the possibility the possibility of these parts being on a equal basis of expressiveness.
    • Kenneth Noland, p. 10
  • I believe that there are varying points of contact. You have to be able to see the whole thing first. All great paintings are sculptures – there's so much of the factualness about it that a great painting forces you into a visual, physical movement of yourself. That's what determines the way you experience a painting kinetically. You move closer, you sight down it, you till your head, you step back, you feel as though you are in it. That being in it is just as important as looking from a distance.
    • Kenneth Noland, p. 10
  • You see things out of the corner of your mind or the corner of your eye that affect you just as strongly as things that you focus on, if not more so.
    • Kenneth Noland, p. 12
  • Abstract Expressionism – especially Pollock, not the more academic painters like De Kooning – made the threshold between illusion and the stuff of painting lower, the distance between them closer. Pollock made all things about the picture, all the stuff, actual. Taking the canvas off the stretcher, putting it on the floor, made it more real. Mixing up different kinds of paint, getting it to stain in, was getting at a kind of materiality.
    • Kenneth Noland, p. 14
  • Picasso loved depicting. He didn't love painting. It's always more like filling in for Picasso. But you can see that Matisse loved the stuff. He loved making it thin, loved moving it around.
    • Kenneth Noland, p. 14
  • Morris Louis and I were interested in how Pollock and Helen Frankenthaler [famous for her soak-painting technique] were using paint. Of necessity we had to get more interested in the stuff of painting. We talked a lot about whether to size the painting or not to size, how to mix up paint.
    • Kenneth Noland, p. 14
  • the possibility of dispersing colors through a given layout naturally appealed to me. The idea of putting a lot of color on the panel surfaces didn't. It would probably have been too strong an effect to live with. I wanted something more woven in. the interstices – that was suggested by I.M. Pei – suited me better because if one chose to look at them the eye would be moved along by the differences in color.
    • Kenneth Noland, p. 18
  • Value differences in painting always cut in; color differences always go side by side. Laterally. Color differences can illustrate three dimensional form, but using color in terms of hue belongs more properly to painting than modelling with dark and light [as in sculpting] does.
    • Kenneth Noland, p. 22
  • In the 1950's there was a kind of agreement that a good artist would do something in his picture that acknowledge the edge, but it was a question of doing something when you got to the edge. Cropping was something new. It came from photography and from w:Clement Greenberg. It was resisted as being too easy.
    • Kenneth Noland, p. 23
  • [the 'Surfboards' - series works Noland made mid-70's] were almost like cut-out figures without being figurative.. .I think of them, in some way, as being like figures; they remind me of figures in vertical Cubist paintings. Even the small pictures have that kind of human proportion in the rectangles. It's not exactly a reference, but the relation of length to width in the rectangles is like a person.
    • Kenneth Noland, pp. 23-24
  • All art that is expressive has to be illusionistic. The raw material out of which art is built is not necessarily in itself potent; you must transform it. Contours, tactility, touch, color, intervals, that's all part of the concreteness of art. You have to make the concreteness expressive. That way you don't cater to taste. You resist sentimentality. Things in a picture can't remind you too much of anything else. You have to resist all that.
    • Kenneth Noland, p. 24
  • When you look at a great painting it's like a conversation. It has questions for you. It raises questions in you.. .Being an artist is about discovering things after you've done them. Like Cézanne – after twenty years of that mountain [Mont St. Victoire] he found out what he was doing. If it isn't a process of discovery, it shows. I'm in it for the long haul.
    • Kenneth Noland, p. 24

Quotes about Kenneth Noland[edit]

  • I think all totally abstract pictures – the best ones that really come off – Newman, Pollock, Kenneth Noland – have tremendous space; perspective space despite the emphasis on flat surface. For example, in Noland a band of yellow in relation to a band of blue and one of orange can move in depth although they are married to the surface. This has become a familiar explanation, but few people really see and feel it that way..
    • Helen Frankenthaler, in 'Interview with Helen Frankenthaler', Henry Geldzahler; Artforum' 4. no. 2, October 1965, p. 37

External links[edit]

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