Monday, 31 December 2012

Barnett Newman

Barnett Newman painted what I would call his first proper stripes around 1948/9. Just think he was painting these while the rest of the world was playing tiddlywinks or running about as below.
This one's called Onement II. Many questions arise when one begins to consider Barnett's stripes (not least the titles) and if you consider them enough and finally lie down to have a rest on the day bed, all you can see is stripes when you shut your eyes. Imagine what they were doing to him.
Meanwhile if you leave a book of Newman's open on your table, why you are possessed of an irresistable urge to to tidy up? And he didn't use a ruler but he did use sellotape. And that is not even beginning to wonder what these paintings do to you when you see them in the flesh (the best collection I've seen is at the Menil in Houston) where they tend to make you all weak at the
I don't buy all the transcendental stuff about these paintings very easily, I like them as investigations of paint and colour and balance that would appropriately sit next to Mies's first MOMA show in 1947,  but I do love 'em, and I'm lucky enough to have been given all of them in one book, the Catalogue Raisonne, just about the heaviest book I've ever owned, I have the whole set, every stripe he ever did, and that of course (ignoring the early work where he was just finding his way not doing stripes) was all he did, all of his life, every day. That, for post modern generations, is worthy of great respect. It is a truly wonderful book.
But as I lay on the day bed today, with it being January 1st and it being exquisite with nothing happening- I even resorted to 'sorting LPs' (loud ones on the top shelf, quieter ones on the bottom shelf, those in between at the ends-if you're interested) I realized it all went tits up for Barnett in 1968/9, when he suffered a momentary lapse of reason and inexplicably started painting the stripes in triangles. It just goes to show you should quit while you're ahead, at cards or in art. He was wobbling. He died of a heart attack in 1970.

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