Today's Featured Artist: Michael Godard

Transform your photos into one-of-a-kind, hand painted masterpieces!

Return to Main Discussion Page


Main Menu | Search Discussions

Search Discussions


Isabella F Abbie Shores

7 Years Ago

What Is - Colour Field Painting

Colour Field painting is a style of abstract painting that emerged in New York City during the 1940s and 1950s. It was inspired by European modernism and closely related to Abstract Expressionism, while many of its notable early proponents were among the pioneering Abstract Expressionists. Colour Field painting is characterized primarily by large fields of flat, solid colour spread across or stained into the canvas; creating areas of unbroken surface and a flat picture plane. The movement places less emphasis on gesture, brushstrokes and action in favour of an overall consistency of form and process.

During the late 1950s and 1960s, Colour field painters emerged in Great Britain, Canada, Washington, DC. and the West Coast of the United States using formats of stripes, targets, simple geometric patterns and references to landscape imagery and to nature.

Colour Field painting is related to Post-painterly abstraction, Suprematism, Abstract Expressionism, Hard-edge painting and Lyrical Abstraction. It initially referred to a particular type of abstract expressionism, especially the work of Mark Rothko, Clyfford Still, Barnett Newman, Robert Motherwell, Adolph Gottlieb and several series of paintings by Joan Miró. Art critic Clement Greenberg perceived Colour Field painting as related to but different from Action painting.

An important distinction that made colour field painting different from abstract expression was the paint handling. The most basic fundamental defining technique of painting is application of paint and the colour field painters revolutionized the way paint could be effectively applied.

Colour Field painting sought to rid art of superfluous rhetoric. Artists like Barnett Newman, Mark Rothko, Clyfford Still, Adolph Gottlieb, Morris Louis, Jules Olitski, Kenneth Noland, Friedel Dzubas, and Frank Stella, and others often used greatly reduced formats, with drawing essentially simplified to repetitive and regulated systems, basic references to nature, and a highly articulated and psychological use of colour. In general these artists eliminated overt recognizable imagery in favor of abstraction. Certain artists quoted references to past or present art, but in general colour field painting presents abstraction as an end in itself. In pursuing this direction of modern art, these artists wanted to present each painting as one unified, cohesive, monolithic image often within series' of related types.

In distinction to the emotional energy and gestural surface marks and paint handling of Abstract Expressionists such as Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning, Colour Field painting initially appeared to be cool and austere. Colour field painters efface the individual mark in favor of large, flat, stained and soaked areas of colour, considered to be the essential nature of visual abstraction along with the actual shape of the canvas, which Frank Stella in particular achieved in unusual ways with combinations of curved and straight edges. However, Colour Field painting has proven to be both sensual and deeply expressive albeit in a different way from gestural Abstract expressionism. Denying connection to Abstract Expressionism or any other Art Movement Mark Rothko spoke clearly about his paintings in 1956:

I am not an abstractionist ... I am not interested in the relationship of colour or form or anything else. ... I'm interested only in expressing basic human emotions — tragedy, ecstasy, doom and so on — and the fact that a lot of people break down and cry when confronted with my pictures show that I communicate those basic human emotions. ... The people who weep before my pictures are having the same religious experience I had when I painted them. And if you, as you say, are moved only by their colour relationships, then you miss the point!

IMAGE: Kenneth Noland, Beginning, magna on canvas painting by Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, 1958. Kenneth Noland working in Washington, DC., was a pioneer of the colour field movement in the late 1950s.


More 'What is' posts;
WHAT IS - En Plein Air
WHAT IS - Painting Alla Prima
WHAT IS - Figurative Art
WHAT IS - Dada
WHAT IS - Surrealism


Reply Order

Post Reply

Kevin Callahan

7 Years Ago

Someone recently asked... If you could have one painting what would it be. My answer was (and is) a Rothko.


Really Kevin? Why opt for Rothko when you could have Reinhardt?!


Kevin Callahan

7 Years Ago

I have sat and stared at a Rothko for hours without one second of boredom. I can't really say way as there are so many painters and painting that leave my legs jelly. But if I had ONE it would be a Rothko. You keep the Reinhardt. I like his work just fine however.


Marlene Burns

7 Years Ago

gotta agree with kevin....the best exhibit ever, was a rothko retrospective in palm springs. i sat on a bench, surrounded on 3 walls by one painting each...huge in proportions. i was overwhelmed.


Richard Rizzo

7 Years Ago

Thank you Beth for posting this, This was the artwork that was popular while I was a kid in New York (1960's) and one that I was very attracted to, I remember going into the city with my older sister and seeing many exhibits at the museum of modern art by some of those artist listed. I never knew there was a name to the style I always thought it was just plain abstract. This rather clarifies it for me. :-)


I didn't know it had a special name either :) These 'What Is' threads are illuminating for me too. Thoroughly enjoying doing them :)


Charles Peck

7 Years Ago

I was hitchiking in Houston-Ft. Worth area (I think this is where I was) back in the early 70's and stumbled across a Rothko museum on several acres but not a large building. It happened to be early when I arrived and I was still there when told to leave that evening. I had never come across Art like this before in my life. Its impact has stayed with me to this day. I think only Jackson Pollock's work has had a comparable influence on me. They do for me what DaVinci's and Rembrandt's drawing do for me.


For any UK people, there is an exhibit of his work running now at the Tate Modern, until Feb 1st. IF you can get through the snow!


Diane Daigle

7 Years Ago

No disrespect intended but I suppose to each their own,,,, it's one of the forms I just don't 'get'. I'm one of those poor slobs that when confronted with some abstract work I may sit down and, for the most part, think 'what is the big deal'? How can anyone look at this and marvel at it? I know,,, like I said,, no disrespect meant in this post at all,,,, really,,,, I, for one, wishes I 'got' it,,, but I don't. How does one go about developing a 'taste' for this?

Beth,,, you have snow?? We still have not had any... this is nuts!


Tons, all gone now but, for several weeks it snowed and settled, disappeared and then snowed and settled again. I THINK it has stopped now but it is still very cold out today so......


Diane Daigle

7 Years Ago

I keep hearing about Canada's snow,,,, just haven't seen it yet..... LOL!


Charles Peck

7 Years Ago

Diane, first I don't think one can "get" color field work from seeing reproductions in a magazine, book or the internet. This happens with all work in my opinion, but may be strongest with this type of work.

The scale of piece is an important part of its aesthetics in that something created at 18 inches by 24 inches will not have the same effect at 7"x10" and will not reflect what the Artist saw while doing it. The larger the original is the more it suffers from being reduced in size.

An indication of this is when you shoot a digital camera image of your painting and look at the small LCD image the camera gives you. Almost every Artist can "see" it differently and even get insight on what to change about it.

The color is changed also and when it is something like Mark Rothko's work with incredibly subtle color interactions meant to achieve emotional response it just doesn't work - it is no longer the same thing.

So to start with unless you have seen the "real thing" in person you have not seen it yet and therefore shouldn't be able to get. It would be suspicious if one thought they could I feel.

One must first interact with the actual painting before having a chance to get it. This happens to be true with all work by the way, in my opinion anyway.


Kevin Callahan

7 Years Ago

Diane I think the answer to your question lies in 2 words: study, understand. Then if you decide that a particular movement is not to your liking you will do it from a position of strength and knowledge. There are artists and even whole movements that don't grab my imagination but one can always learn about why they came to be and how any one artist became a key practitioner of that movement. It might even encourage you to get into a dialogue using your own art as conversational medium while referencing that which you do not like. It can stretch the mind.


This discussion is closed.

Browse Through Millions of Images from the World's Greatest Artists and Photographers

Autumn Roses - Georges Barbier

Autumn Roses

Georges Barbier

THE INVISIBLE MAN - Jazzberry Blue

The Invisible Man

Jazzberry Blue

pale blues - Hyuntae Kim

Pale Blues

Hyuntae Kim

MOBY DICK - Jazzberry Blue

Moby Dick

Jazzberry Blue

Into Temptation - Evelina Kremsdorf

Into Temptation

Evelina Kremsdorf

Grand Bend - Canada - Joana Kruse

Grand Bend - Canada

Joana Kruse

DOUBLETHINK - Jazzberry Blue


Jazzberry Blue