Twisting and Lifting

After two posts on geometry that doesn’t line up I want to mention another deviation from the abstract norm found in Noland’s work. Brittle is hardly a word we associate with Noland. Sensuous is the more usual descriptor. But that very thin, flat paint makes a surface that can twist and lift in unexpected directions. I mean appear to. No matter how much it’s soaked into the canvas, from a certain distance it’s still a skin. The standard reading, supported by the very long stripe pieces, is that one is immersed in fields of colour. But that’s from a particular distance, and I would say a conceptual distance. From a bit closer up we have to recognize all kinds of slippery and fugitive optical effects that come more clearly into focus the more aware we are of material particulars of the surface. These effects were noticed and mentioned quite early on by people Iike Rosalind Krauss. She says that Noland’s stripes have a kind of obliqueness that “..acts as if to lift the picture’s surface off the wall on which it hangs and turn it at an angle to the viewer..” This kind of illusion can be developed by bands of colour with non-parallel or converging edges, ends cut off at an angle (as in Stella’s Irregular Polygons) and angled meetings with the edge of the support.

Kenneth Noland, Half Day 1976

Kenneth Noland, Half Day 1976

The best thinker on these lines today is Shep Steiner, who discovered that Noland’s circles are under a lot of stress from the stretching, or restretching, of the canvas after it was painted, a stress that gives them a twist and a turn. These are hard things to convey in a photograph, maybe impossible. They are experiences, and not easy to register. They need time, persistence and the presence of the object. The illustrated work better meets the requirement “no vertical, no horizontal, no parallel,” but it is also more symmetrical than the works in the previous two posts. Something to work on.

This entry was posted in American Modernism, Principles of Abstraction and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *