Kenneth Noland was born in 1924 in Ashville, North Carolina. His father was a pathologist who painted as a hobby, and his mother was an amateur piano player. After visiting the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D. C., when he was 14, Noland became interested in painting. His father encouraged him by allowing Noland to use his art materials.
In 1942, Noland was drafted into the United States Army. Having flown airplanes as a child with his father as the pilot, Noland chose the Army Air Corps, and later served in the Air Force. He was stationed in the United States until late 1944. He then was stationed in Egypt and Turkey.
Noland returned to Ashville in 1946. He and his brothers, Harry, who introduced him to jazz and literature, and Neil, who became a sculptor, attended Black Mountain College in North Carolina from 1946 to 1948 and during the summers of 1950 and 1951.
Bauhaus-trained Josef Albers was absent from Black Mountain during most of the time Noland attended. However, Albers' ideas about color relationships and geometric patterns were still part of the curriculum. Ilya Botowsky, of the American Abstract Artists group, was Noland's principal teacher. Noland was unaware of the work of the Abstract Expressionists in New York City. He was interested in the works of Paul Klee at this time.
Wanting to know more about art, Noland went to Paris on the G.I. Bill. He had his first solo show at a Paris Gallery. Here he saw works by Matisse, Miro and Picasso.
Noland returned to the United States in 1949 and settled in Washington, D. C. He student-taught and later became an instructor at the Institute of the Contemporary Arts. He also taught at Catholic University from 1951 to 1960. In 1950, while attending Black Mountain, Noland became close friends with Clement Greenberg, an art critic, and Helen Frankenthaler. He met David Smith, a sculptor, through Cornelia Langer, who he married in 1950.
In 1952, Noland became close friends with Morris Louis. They remained friends until Louis' death in 1962. Noland and Louis were not content to imitate the action-painting style of the Abstract Expressionists. They were influenced by the stain-painting technique on raw unprimed canvas of Helen Frankenthaler. In 1953, when they visited her studio in New York City, they were introduced to a new way of thinking about using colors.
Noland experimented with different types of paint on raw canvas. Some of his abstract canvases were stained in thin washes and others were thickly painted. The influence of Pollock, de Kooning, and Frankenthaler are apparent in these canvases.
Noland began to make paintings of circles within a square format in 1956. This was a break from the gestural brushstrokes of the abstract expressionists. In these paintings, Noland used color washes and areas of raw canvas. These paintings were shown in his first American one-man show at the Tibor de Nagy Gallery, New York City, in 1957.
Noland's painting became geometric and hard-edged with concentric circles by 1958. He also introduced a plastic-type paint, later called acrylic paint, to his work. Like Pollock, Noland painted his large canvases on the floor. These paintings of concentric circles of varying width remained flat and non-symbolic, but had intense color contrasts.
When these paintings were shown in New York in 1960, Greenberg wrote a very positive article for "Art International" in which he used the term "color field" painting for the first time. This term is often used interchangeably with Post-Painterly Abstraction.
In 1962, Noland's "Cat's Eye" series paintings moved from circles to ellipsoid shapes. His paintings using V-shaped motifs, all hard-edged with varying stripes of color, were painted after he moved to New York City in 1963. Throughout this work, Noland was always concerned with the relationship of the image to the edge of the canvas.
By 1964, Noland began his rectangular horizontal stripe series of paintings. He used his tape to obtain a hard edge and applied the paint with rollers, brushes, sponges, and squeegees. Some of these paintings had an exceptionally horizontal format. "Via Blues", painted in 1967, is 90 inches tall and 22 feet long. This painting was exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in 1968.
In 1971, Noland changed his work to vertical plaid paintings with loosely applied paint. The same year, he began to experiment with sculpture. His experience with sculpture prompted him to experiment with irregularly shaped canvases.
In 1977, Noland had a retrospective at the Guggenheim Museum in New York, which traveled to the Hirshorn and Corcoran Museums in Washington, D.C.
Noland was divorced in 1957. Ten years later, he married Stephanie Gordon, but they were divorced in 1969. Noland has three children from his first marriage. He served as the Milton Avery Professor of the Arts, Bard College, Annandale on Hudson, New York in 1985. He continues to be active as a painter and in the 1990's had one-man exhibits at two of New York's most important galleries, Leo Castelli and Andre Emmerich. His paintings are in the permanent collections of major art museums throughout the world.
Noland lived and worked at his farmhouse in Vermont, which he bought from Robert Frost in 1963. The barn was used as his studio. He also has a second home in lower Manhattan. Noland passed away in 2010
Page author: C.A. & C.F.