Robert Motherwell

gigatos | May 31, 2022


Robert Motherwell, born January 24, 1915 in Aberdeen (Washington State, USA) and died July 16, 1991 in Provincetown, Massachusetts, is an American painter, printmaker and publisher associated with abstract expressionism.

His father, a banker and one time president of Wells Fargo Bank, is of Scottish descent and his mother is Irish. His surname is of medieval Scottish origin and comes from a village where there was a well known to travelers and called “the well of the Holy Mother” (“Mother-Well”). He is an only child.

In 1918, the family moved to San Francisco (California). He studied painting for a while at the San Francisco Art Institute and then entered Stanford University in Palo Alto (he obtained a Bachelor of Arts in philosophy in 1937). He was also interested in music and wrote a thesis on the relationship between Eugene O”Neill and psychoanalysis.

During the summer of 1935, Robert Motherwell made his “tour of Europe”: France, where he met the Surrealists and experimented with automatic writing, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Belgium and England. After studying philosophy at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, he wrote a thesis on the diary of Eugène Delacroix. Often presented as the type of American painter, Motherwell was always very attached to European culture.

He returned to Paris in 1938 and translated Paul Signac”s book D”Eugène Delacroix au néo-impressionnisme. In 1939, he exhibited for the first time at the Raymond Duncan Gallery, a fellow countryman.

Back in the United States in 1940, Robert Motherwell settled in New York. He studied art history at Columbia University. In 1941, he met up with the exiled surrealists André Breton, Marcel Duchamp, Max Ernst, André Masson, Matta and Yves Tanguy. He published in the surrealist magazine VVV that Breton, Ernst, Duchamp and the painter David Hare directed, practiced automatic writing with Jackson Pollock and William Baziotes, played chess with Max Ernst who gave him a sculpture and participated in the exhibition First Papers of Surrealism (1942). He learned engraving with the Swiss painter Kurt Seligmann and traveled to Mexico with Matta. Of this period, he confessed in 1964, “never to have been a surrealist painter because not the meaning that . From 1944, he expresses a criticism of surrealism in an article in the magazine Dyn stating that “to abandon oneself completely to the unconscious is to become a slave.

In 1943, Robert Motherwell made his first collages at the invitation of Peggy Guggenheim, who planned to exhibit them in her gallery alongside those of Baziotes and Pollock. In 1945 he edited a collection of theoretical texts on modern European art under the title The Documents of Modern Art. In 1946 he participated in the exhibition “Fourteen Americans” organized by the MOMA in New York.

In 1948, with Baziotes, David Hare, Barnett Newman and the painter Mark Rothko, he founded the school “Subjects of the Artists”. He began a series of paintings entitled Elegy dedicated to the Spanish Republic of 1936. This series continued into the 1970s.

From 1950 to 1958, Robert Motherwell taught at Hunter College in New York. He represented the United States at the Venice Biennale in 1950 and the São Paulo Biennale in 1961.

In 1986, he received the Gold Medal of Merit of Fine Arts from the Spanish Ministry of Education, Culture and Sports.

Associated with American Abstract Expressionism, Robert Motherwell”s intellectual approach is characterized by a wide range of interests: philosophy, symbolist literature, psychoanalysis and oriental art. His painting ranges from the most violent lyricism to an almost austere serenity. Black and white have been Motherwell”s staple for over forty years: “black represents death, anguish, white represents life, radiance.”

Robert Motherwell calls the simultaneity of the act of painting and drawing “extension of division”. He never draws from nature but from the intimate “life” of the mind and emotions. He uses drawing to find new images or to solve pictorial problems. What he calls “doodles” are used to give birth to new ideas.

Barnett Newman said that when he read Robert Motherwell”s writings, he learned what Motherwell had read, but when he wanted to know what Motherwell was really about, he looked at his paintings.

R. Motherwell: “I start painting on the floor. The paint, when I paint vertically, drips too much. You have more control over the canvas when you paint horizontally, and at the same time you have a less restricted view. I can turn around, for example. I work hard on the flat surface and, miraculously, the three-dimensional space takes on an existence of its own. I end up finishing the painting vertically, standing.”

External links


  1. Robert Motherwell
  2. Robert Motherwell
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