‘I do open paintings. I like lightness, airiness, and the way colour pulsates. The presence of the painting is all that’s important’
‘The thing is to get that colour down on the thinnest conceivable surface, a surface sliced into the air as if by a razor. It’s all colour and surface, that’s all’
Held in the same collection for over fifty years, Kenneth Noland’s Doo Gee (1964) is a monumental apparition of luminous colour. A bright scarlet oval, surrounded by a softening border of forest green, hovers against a vast ground of vivid ultramarine blue. The canvas is square and the oval set dead centre, creating a hypnotic optical focus. Noland’s thinned acrylic paint is sunk directly into the unprimed cotton surface. This staining not only conveys a sense of the colour as pure and disembodied, but also makes revision or overpainting – which would unbalance the work’s texture – impossible. As Noland put it in 1965, ‘I’m a one-shot painter’ (K. Noland, quoted in ‘Painting: Peacock Duo’, Time, 8 January 1965, p. 44). His radical approach to composition and colour revolutionised abstract painting in the 1960s. Melding the idealistic Bauhaus and De Stijl-infused lessons of Josef Albers and Ilya Bolotowsky, who had taught him at Black Mountain College, with the physical tactility of Matisse and the magical, intuitive colour-sense of Paul Klee, Noland created a unique fusion of geometric and material concerns. Doo Gee represents an evolution from his breakthrough circle compositions of the late 1950s, which often floated against an unpainted canvas ground: here, colour as mood floods the work entirely and seems even to expand beyond the picture plane, facing the viewer with a potent aura of mystic presence.
Doo Gee was painted in a key year for Noland. 1964 saw him take part in the landmark exhibition ‘Post-Painterly Abstraction’ at Los Angeles County Museum of Art, whose title would come to designate the open, clear and lucid style that Noland, along with Morris Louis, Jules Olitski, Frank Stella and others, had developed in the wake of Abstract Expressionism. Clement Greenberg, who curated the show, championed these artists as defining the new landscape of American painting. That same year, Noland took part in the Venice Biennale alongside Louis, Stella, Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns and Claes Oldenburg: a grouping that brought together Pop art and Post- Painterly Abstraction as the most vital developments of the 1960s. Jewel-like and radiant, Doo Gee resonates as an icon of Noland’s practice and an elegant concentration of his painterly power. Colour and form, emotion and geometry, the felt and the rational, are held in a halo of perfect, distilled equilibrium. ‘I do open paintings’, Noland said. ‘I like lightness, airiness, and the way colour pulsates. The presence of the painting is all that’s important’ (K. Noland, quoted in ‘Painting: Peacock Duo’, Time, 8 January 1965, p. 44).