Color field painting, which emerged in the United States in the 1950s, is based on radiant, uninflected hues. Exemplified by the work of Helen Frankenthaler, Morris Louis, Kenneth Noland, Jules Olitski, Larry Poons, and Frank Stella, among others, these stunningly beautiful and impressively scaled paintings constitute one of the crowning achievements of postwar American abstract art. Color as Field offers a long-overdue reevaluation of this important aspect of American abstract painting. The authors examine how color field painting rejects the gestural, layered, and hyper-emotional approach typical of Willem de Kooning and his followers, yet at the same time develops and expands ideas about all-overness and the primacy of color posited by the work of other members of the abstract expressionist generation, such as Adolph Gottlieb, Hans Hofmann, Robert Motherwell, Jackson Pollock, and Mark Rothko. From the fresh historical standpoint of the 21st century, this fascinating reassessment ranges across the artists' individual approaches and their commonalities, concluding with insights into the ongoing legacy of post-1970s color field painting among present-day artists.
Karen Wilkin is an independent curator and critic specializing in 20th-century modernism. Carl Belz is Director Emeritus of the Rose Art Museum, Brandeis University.