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Color Field Painting

Susan Vecsey
Untitled (Lavender/Gold), 2018
Oil on linen
103.1 x 188 cm (48 x 74 in.)
Courtesy of the artist and Berry Campbell Gallery, New York

Color Field Painting is featured by large, flat areas of color spread across the canvas creating a flat picture plane. It was identified by an American art critic Clement Greenberg during the late 1940s and early 1950s. The critic notified a dichotomy between differing tendencies within the Abstract Expressionist canon and observed the all-over color (or Color Field) tendency in the works of several Abstract Expressionists. (**This term itself was first used by an American scholar Irvine Sandler in his book The Triumph of American Painting: A History of Abstract Expressionism published in 1970 for the title of a chapter covering some of American Abstract Expressionist painters such as Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman, and Clyfford Still.)

Unlike gestural abstraction painters who focused on pictorial depth, vibrant brushstrokes, and the context of the creation process, Color Field painters were more interested in the expressive potential of color itself. From around the 1960s, a more pure form of Color Field painting emerged by a new generation of painters and such artists including Helen Frankenthaler, Keneth Noland, Morris Louis, Alma Thomas, and Sam Gilliam were named. Especially Helen Frankenthaler who created for the pivotal role in the transition from the previous Abstract Expressionism to Color Field Abstraction had a great deal of influence on her contemporaries, creating a sense of spatiality on canvas while simultaneously emphasizing the flatness of the plane.

While the earliest Color Field paintings were made with oil paint, since the 1960s, artists began to experiment it with the new-water-soluble pigments, acrylic paints whose capabilities were rapidly improved followed the rapid development of plastics technology. Unlike oil paints, acrylic remained bright even when diluted and could be spread easily and smoothly over large areas.

Helen Frankenthaler
White Flight, 1979
Acrylic on canvas
40.6 x 100.3 cm (16 x 39 1/2 in.)
© 2019 Helen Frankenthaler Foundation/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY. Private Collection. Courtesy of Kasmin Gallery, New York

If I were doing this picture, what would I be doing? What would I be feeling? I often say I would be swiping this color, or I'm swiping the placement of these colors on the surface of my picture.

Helen Frankenthaler

Related categories

New York School

Oil Painting

Abstract Painting

Unconsciousness / Subconsciousness

Color and Form

American Abstract Expressionism


Color Field Abstraction

Dense Composition


Post-War American Art


Art of the 1970s

Broad Brushstrokes

Acrylic Paint

Smooth and Flat Surface

Gouache Paint

Art of the 1960s

Blurred Images

Art Students League

Art Fair