Ad Reinhardt's Abstract Painting, Blue was produced during the classic period of the early 1950s, in which he established his signature style of pared down rectilinear compositions. Beginning with predominantly red fields, Reinhardt focused on blue tones in 1953, before he turned to almost total blackness in his pursuit of the absolute. These early variants on what he described as 'archaic color-brick-brushwork" are particularly prized as celebrations of color in non-referential terms. The subtle chromatic distinctions on these almost mono-tonal surfaces avoid any external associations and stand only for the pure visual joy of the color itself. The carefully structured composition requires slow contemplation, as the blues absorb or reflect light playing across its surface, varying according to the time of day or angle of observation.
From 1950, all the components of Reinhardt's paintings were systematically refined and regularized into a "pure painting idea." The rectangular 'bricks' that appeared in his paintings in the 1940s grew larger, more symmetrical and became anchored to the edges of the canvas. Dividing lines between units of color only serve to reinforce the framework of the canvass outer boundaries, thereby emphasizing the art of painting alone -- its particular qualities being two-dimensionality, rectangularity and a painted surface.
Reinhardt was a particularly ardent and articulate formalist who despised the mysticism and overwrought existentialism that clung to many interpretations of American art in the 1950s, yet oddly, the last thing one is conscious of when viewing his paintings is the impersonal nature of his geometric configurations. The evanescence of his structural forms create a dramatically sensual experience that is impossible to perceive in reproduction, their mutability tests the limits of visual perception and can only truly be experienced first hand. The even distribution of regulated components in Abstract Painting, Blue possesses a compositional totality that lends the painting a timeless presence -- for all its formalist concerns, it is silent, subdued and soulful.
The desire to reduce art down to its essence was very much a part of the philosophical program of the New York school in the 1940s and 1950s and Reinhardt led the way as one of the avant-garde's chief moralists in the polemics on abstraction. His simple, meditative works are the antithesis of the "action paintings" of Abstract Expressionists like Jackson Pollock, yet they were, in their own way, a continuance of the all over compositional principle of the 1940s. Abstract Painting, Blue clearly communicates Reinhardt's desire for painting to convey "detachment, disinterestedness, thoughtfulness, [and] transcendence" which would provide the critical bridge between his generation and the emergence of Minimalist and Conceptual art of the 1960s (A. Reinhardt, The New Decade: 35 American Painters and Sculptors, exh. cat. New York, 1955).