Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Robert Motherwell

Robert Motherwell
January 24, 1915 – July 16, 1991
AbEx movement
Coined the name for the 'New York School' group of artists, writers and thinkers in the 50s and 60s.

I've always loved Abstract Expressionism. When I was younger, I was heavy into surrealism, and I still love it, but more and more I've been moving in the direction of the AbExers. I associate them with the Beats, but more materialistic. They dealt with the subconscious the way the surrealists did, but in a more hard, conceptual way. It's not literal, which is good, because the existential angst that produced the work isn't literal either, except to say, perhaps, that its a universal. And I resonate with them in all their steamy, brilliant, bawdiness.

Because Motherwell is so closely linked to the AbEx clique, my first inclination is to size him up against the other three big wigs: Pollock, Rothko and De Kooning.
If I had to create some completely arbitrary binary opposing categories to put these men in, I'd put Rothko and Motherwell together.

The main reason for this is Motherwell's pieces, particularly his famous Elegy to the Spanish Republic series, don't have the rhythm that I feel from Pollock and De Kooning's work.

Motherwell was a student of philosophy, so there's certainly a world-weariness about his ink blots. His elegy pieces look like Rorschach test specimens, which actually fits in perfectly with the kind of subconscious angst that the AbEx artists handled so beautifully. The blots work like suspended orbs.

This Motherwell piece caught my eye immediately:

'Red and the Black #14' (1987)

Firstly, I'm a sucker for collage. Always have been, always will be.
The use of musical scales in the collage adds a kind of rhythm to this piece that his others lack, but the rectangles recall the arrhythmic but still gorgeously intellectual Bauhaus school. The non-descriptive shapes appear as if they're all facing the written music, like an audience watching a symphony. Only, this isn't a classical symphony; the time period, energy, abstraction, color choice and minimalism of the painting fits the mold of Palais Schaumburg, not Beethoven.


  1. So, I put on Spy Versus Spy while looking at this Motherwell again. Pleasure increased tenfold. The combination exudes 80s. How did you hear Schaumburg in this piece? Mind blown. Also, it made me feel like I was in a movie montage where I was a character who was being examined by Motherwell, yet I knew every response that he had to my interpretations of his work...before he responded. Which means that it wasn't really him that was psychoanalyzing me, but myself.
    Describing the shapes as facing the music seems to be spot on. I think Motherwell is too advanced for me to give any type of interpretation on. Btw, artists + philosophy =the shit.

  2. I love your interpretation. I saw Schaumburg because I saw the colors and shapes and thought: Bauhaus/Soviet Propaganda Art
    Palais is pretty bad ass, I like their stuff. The starkish 80s German New Wave tag seems more fitting to me than tagging it as a piece of American or British New Wave - with that, I think "neon."

    Artists & Philosophy = my two favorite things. Together? Intellectual boner.


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I love to read about linguistics, behavioral economics, theory and philosophy. I listen to music some might call outdated, write satirical and high testosterone plays, consume too much caffeine and ruthlessly defend modern and contemporary art.