Robert Motherwell | 285436 | Page 1
Robert Motherwell was born in Aberdeen, Washington in 1915. His extensive academic career began at age 11 when he studied art at Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles. In 1938, after gaining a BA in philosophy from Stanford and beginning PhD courses at Harvard, he left school for a year-long pre-war tour of Europe. During this time he began painting in earnest; his first solo exhibition took place in 1939 at the Duncan Gallery in Paris.
Motherwell’s interest in abstraction began at Stanford when he studied with American philosopher Alfred Norton Whitehead. Whitehead proposed that abstraction was the process of peeling away the inessential to uncover the truth. Upon his return to the United States, Motherwell moved to New York and met a number of like-minded artists. Along with Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline, Jackson Pollack, and Mark Rothko, he became central in the development of Abstract Expressionism. These artists rejected realism as a superficial means of depicting life, hoping to access a deeper reality than what is perceived through their use of total abstraction signified by strong colors and broad brushstrokes. The youngest and most prolific of the Abstract Expressionists, Motherwell was unique in that his work was abstract from the outset.
In contrast to many other Abstract Expressionists, Motherwell regarded collage as one of the great developments in 20th Century art practice. Encouraged by Peggy Guggenheim in 1943 to participate in a collage exhibition, Motherwell began utilizing collage as a means to expand his interest in chance associations. His selection and alteration of found material and commercial labels was often a means of creating the presence of the artist in his work, usually with autobiographical associations. In general, Motherwell began a work with no preconceived subject matter, arranging and combining colors, forms, and patterns until he arrived at a composition that evoked in him a distinct sensation—be it joy, terror, mystery, or nostalgia.
In 1961, Motherwell furthered his exploration of abstraction by returning to printmaking, which he first experimented with in 1943. One of the original Abstract Expressionists to embrace the medium of printmaking, Motherwell worked with numerous print workshops in the United States and Europe to create limited edition prints of his work, which, like his painting, is at once discordant and lyrical. Often using his collage practice as a source for his print work iconography, Motherwell took full advantage of the opportunity to use the print process to transform collage into an archival, editioned art form. Highly regarded not only as a painter but also as a critic and lecturer, Motherwell died on July 16, 1991.