Other Figures

I’ve been looking at (and reading) a catalogue of Motherwell’s early collages. It has to be said that Motherwell is one of the important reference points for abstraction today. This is hardly a common view, but as a practitioner I have a different perspective than most critics or historians. His early collages open up some important questions about convention, the all-over composition, and the figure. I respond to them most strongly when they are less arrangements of blocks parallel to the picture plane. Funny how planarity, which was supposed to guarantee flatness, turns out to be the strongest link to cubism. Diagonals help to move things along, but only if they rule the whole arrangement, or at least influence it strongly, as here.

Robert Motherwell, Collage 1947

Robert Motherwell, Collage 1947

But the formula often works, and in this next piece there’s a complexity of overlapping rectangles that really demonstrates Motherwell’s intelligence and taste, not to mention his ability to work spontaneously and intuitively. It’s not quite a figure.

Robert Motherwell, Blue Air July 1946

Robert Motherwell, Blue Air July 1946

It’s that not-quiteness that matters. This next piece really falls apart. As such it’s more forward looking than most of the early collages, and today still at least a bit that way.

Robert Motherwell, In Grey and Tan 1948

Robert Motherwell, In Grey and Tan 1948

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