Barnett Newman is variously named as a member of one of several groups, schools, or artistic styles. Frequently considered an Abstract Expressionist, Newman has also been referred to as a Color Field painter, a Formalist, and even a proto-Minimalist. But the artist himself “largely objected to being looped in with any established group or identifiable style of painting.”
Newman felt that in a world after World War II, the history of painting was obsolete. He aimed to go back to the beginning—to “the void”—rejecting any established mode of image-making, whether representational or abstract. Newman insisted that he was a painter but not a picture-maker, and that his work depicted neither objects nor non-objects.
The varied oeuvre—made up of not only paintings but also of drawings, prints, sculpture, and even an architectural model—deals with color and with scale, but above all with meaning. At times Newman himself referred to his practice as “Abstract Expression” or the “Abstract Sublime.” Broadly speaking, Newman’s art is about the experience of standing in front of it.
Between 1944 and 1970 Barnett Newman created 118 paintings, 82 drawings, 6 sculptures and from 1961 onward a group of graphics that includes lithographs (notably the portfolio 18 Cantos), etchings (including the portfolio Notes), as well as a silkscreen. An architectural model dates to 1963.
No student work has been preserved: by 1944 Newman had destroyed all of his previous artwork. His artistic breakthrough occurred in 1948 with Onement I to which, in his 1970 interview with Emile de Antonio, he referred as “my first painting—that is, where I felt that I had moved into an area for myself that was completely me.”
A selection of images of works follows here. The choice is dictated to some extent by the fact that Newman worked at times with extreme formats—canvas widths fluctuating between 18 feet and 1½ inches—which defy appropriate reproduction, particularly in this medium, as does the subtlety of the facture of his paintings.
At the time of his death, the majority of his paintings and works on paper as well as half of his sculptures were still in the artist’s possession. Over the next three decades Annalee Newman, his widow, placed the artistic estate in collections of international importance. The oeuvre now resides predominantly in public institutions where the general public may have the opportunity to view Newman’s work in person.
Click the image below to view a selection of works by Newman.