Robert Motherwell

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Robert Motherwell was a twentieth century American artists, in addition to his preoccupation with printmaking, and editing. He was one of highly qualified painters to study from the New York School. As an artist he was also well-versed in other forms of arts, including literature and philosophy. His paintings featured an array of bold colors filling up the simple shapes demonstrating a contrasts and dynamic balance simultaneously. The subject of his artwork covers a wide range of subjects, including autobiographical elements, ubiquitous human conditions, a perpetual dialogue with historical and contemporary art and the philosophy at its core.

Born on January 24, 1915, Robert Motherwell, spent the first few years of his life in Aberdeen, Washington and later the family moved to San Francisco. He went to school in California where he developed interest in bright colors and wide spaces which later became the key feature of his abstract art. Having an asthmatic condition in early years of his life confined him but it didn’t slow him down. At the backdrop of Californian hills, Motherwell also highlighted the theme of mortality which was the part and parcel of his frail childhood condition.

He received his rudimentary education in painting from California School of Fine Arts. Later Motherwell went on to Stanford University to study philosophy from where he garnered Bachelors of Arts degree. Here he developed indulgence for modernist literature when he studied symbolists’ works, including that of Edgar Allan Poe, Mallarmé, Octavio Paz and James Joyce. This fascination with symbolism would later make a thematic appearance in his work. He then pursued his passion for arts when he enrolled himself at Harvard where he studied under the supervision of Arthur Oncken Lovejoy and David Wite Prall. Motherwell’s next stop was New York’s Columbia University.

On his trip to Mexico in 1941, Motherwell finally chose to take up painting as his main source of income. There he made a few sketches that evolved into major artworks of our time. These works include Little Spanish Prison (1941), and Pancho Villa, Dead and Alive (1943) which is now being showcased at MoMA (Museum of Modern Art). His introduction to automatic drawing, which is commonly employed by Surrealists, affected his work in the long run. However, the concept of abstract automatic doodling later altered for him when he met the Mexican artist Wolfgang Paalen. Mexican Sketchbook is one of his finest attempts at redefining this concept.

During his time in Mexico, Motherwell came to realize that American artists are merely copying off the iconic painters like Picasso and Gorky in a meticulous fashion. It was only the imitation without manifestation of creative principle to their works. The lack of creative principle led artists to copy the Europeans’ work without incorporating their creativity to it. Hence, Motherwell found it imperative to lay down creative principles which manifested in the form of foundation of a revolutionary movement, Abstract Expressionism (1940s). He played a pivotal role in its emergence to rectify the archaic views of creating art. That event came to be a cornerstone in the modern abstract art.

Robert Motherwell’s notable artwork was showcased in multiple galleries including Peggy Guggenheim’s “Art of This Century” in 1944. His work was also purchased by Museum of Modern Arts the same year. 1940s marked the decade when he became an avant-garde artist and spokesperson in America. In the late forties, he began the magnum opus Elegy to the Spanish Republic series which laments the life loss during the Spanish Civil War.

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