Color Field Painting

Ellsworth Kelly “Blue/Yellow/Red”

Ellsworth Kelly “Blue/Yellow/Red”

As its name indicates, Color Field painting has two components—“color” and “field.” Rejecting illusions of depth and gestural brushwork, Color Field painters applied color in swaths that often span the entire canvas, suggesting that it is a detail of some larger field. Intent on eliminating any distinction between a subject and its background, Color Field painters treated the canvas as a single plane. This emphasis on the flatness of the painting mirrored the formalist imperative that painting respect its two-dimensional nature rather than create an illusion of three-dimensionality. Color Field painting was an extension of Abstract Expressionism. Pollock, with his all-over compositions, was the first Color Field painter. The inspiration for the dramatic use of color in Color Field painting came from the work of the Abstract Expressionists Mark Rothko and Barnett Newman. Since Color Field painting is invariably abstract, nature-based color has typically been abandoned in favor of more expressive hues. When examined at close range, the expansive canvases of the Color Field painters frequently seem to envelop the viewer in a luxuriant environment of color.

© 2009 Oxford University Press