MOCA: Color and Form: Abstract Painting in the 1970s

June 16, 2012 0 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

In the 1950s, there was a rise of Abstract Expressionism. In the 1960s, the style expanded creating, Post-Painterly Abstraction and Color Field Painting. And in the 1970s, the combination of geometrical lines, primary colors, contrasting light and unusual materials carried Abstract Expressionism to its greatest decade.

While Abstract painting gained prominence in the 1950s with the rise of Abstract Expressionism, for the decades that followed this mode of painting was subject to continual appropriation, quotation and reinvention. In the 1960s, two developments of this style emerged—Post-Painterly Abstraction, characterized by geometric shapes and primary colors, and Color Field Painting, which frequently thin layers of contrasting pigments.
In the 1970s, Color Field painting continued to play a prominent role. Artists such as Giorgio Cavallon, Helen Frankenthaler and Robert Natkin sparingly combined and layered colors and tones until they created delicate, subtle surfaces that resemble veils of light and pigment.
At the same time, an equally subtle, yet distinct vein of abstraction also emerged. Partially in response to the growing influence of Minimalism and its emphasis on clean, geometrical lines and shapes, some abstract painters began including notions of repetition and primary structures in their work. For example, Nancy Genn created abstract compositions based on the repetition of horizontal bands of lines and colors. Other artists appropriated geometry more loosely. Robert Motherwell uses the shape of an open rectangle to suggest a rectilinear doorway or window within his Color Field-inspired composition. Katherine Porter frames her loose, gestural painting within a series of squares that draw attention to center of the composition.
The use of geometry in abstract painting also resulted in a second permutation—the introduction of collage materials to the painting’s surface. While collage—a form of art making in which various materials (photographs, fabric, newspaper, etc.) are arranged and pasted onto a backing—enjoyed great popularity in the early part of the 20th century, it receded in prominence during the height of Abstract Expressionism. In the 1970s, artists such as John Walker began creating works known as canvas collage—an application of glued on, separately painted patches of canvas. These patches were frequently cut into rough geometric shapes, adding a tactile and visual dimension to the works.

MOCA's ReFocus: The "Art of the 1970s" exhibit showcases the top Abstract Expressionist paintings of the decade. The paintings on display represent the evolution and the culmination of collage forms, minimalism, color field painting, and post-painterly abstraction. As a result of this evolution, artists of the 1970s felt an even greater freedom to utilize all types of materials to create a style of art that has demanded attention for over a generation. ReFocus exhibits a sampling of artists to demonstrate the techniques, styles and movements of the art of the 1970s.  Allow us to show you how Cavallon, Frankenthaler, Natkin and many more took Abstract Expressionism to new levels.

The Museum of Contemporary Arts Jacksonville

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