“[Noland’s] color counts by its clarity and its energy; it is not there neutrally, to be carried by the design and drawing; it does the carrying itself”—Clement Greenberg
(C. Greenberg quoted in K. Moffett, Kenneth Noland, New York, 1977, p. 51).
"No internal edge echoes or repeats the defining edges of the support; the bands seem cut from some larger and expanding chevron shape that, at the same time, is clearly delimited by interlocking with the picture's literalness. And so, reciprocal is the interlocking that each expands laterally or vertically in response to the other. Thus, Noland obtained a more flexible format and was no longer limited to the square"—Kenneth Moffett
(K. Moffett, Kenneth Noland, New York, 1977, p. 58-60).
One of the most distinguished painters of color the 20th century, Kenneth Noland’s departure from the realm of Abstract Expressionism signaled a new era in the course of painting. Across is a striking example of the artist’s much-lauded Chevrons series, and displays his signature use of acrylic on raw canvas to create bold areas of pure color that explore the chromatic and the geometric rather than the gestural. Clement Greenberg, the most vocal proponent of abstraction in the 20th century, noted, “[Noland’s] color counts by its clarity and its energy; it is not there neutrally, to be carried by the design and drawing; it does the carrying itself” (C. Greenberg quoted in Kenneth Moffett, Kenneth Noland, New York, 1977, p. 51). Noland’s paintings use color in provocative ways to create new conversations about abstraction. By letting the work be about color itself, rather than using the hues to evoke emotion or as decoration, paintings like Across get to the heart of the formal qualities championed by Greenberg and other critics who championed non-representational painting.
Four colored chevrons extend downward from the top of a bare canvas. The smallest, here only a blue triangle, seems to be frozen as it tries to move onto the picture plane. A warm earth toned band follows in a bold descending motion with vivid pink and olive green in tow. The solid nature of these angular lines brings a motion and vibrancy to the composition, especially when contrasted with the bare canvas that makes up the lower portion of the work. "Like arrowheads moving down or across the picture surface, this dramatic layout [of the Chevrons] imposed a bold sense of direction, forcing Noland to find colors to take advantage of the abrupt transition from one band to the next...arranging those hues with dazzling exactitude” (T. Fenton, "Kenneth Noland," in exh. cat., Kenneth Noland: An Important Exhibition of Paintings from 1958 through 1989, Salander-O'Reilly Galleries, Inc., New York, 1989, p. 11). The colors here define the shapes and thus define the canvas itself. In anticipation of later works where the canvas and the shapes were mirrored, Noland allows the rest of the rectangular support to fade into the background by leaving the canvas unadorned.
Breaking from the all-over compositions of Abstract Expressionism, Noland started to create works with more discernibly clean forms and shapes. His circle and square paintings gave way to the acclaimed Chevron paintings in 1963, of which Across is a potent example. "No internal edge echoes or repeats the defining edges of the support; the bands seem cut from some larger and expanding chevron shape that, at the same time, is clearly delimited by interlocking with the picture's literalness. And so, reciprocal is the interlocking that each expands laterally or vertically in response to the other. Thus, Noland obtained a more flexible format and was no longer limited to the square" (K. Moffett, Kenneth Noland, New York, 1977, p. 58-60). By searching for an internal structure, Noland negated the rectangular support held in such high esteem by his forebears. Opposing this rectilinear construction with echoing, angular lines of vivid color creates a strong visual element that relies not on expression for a nuance of motion, but on the optical strength of repeating triangles.
Studying at North Carolina’s legendary Black Mountain College after serving in the Air Force in the wake of WWII, Noland came under the tutelage of Josef and Anni Albers who taught him theories from the then-defunct Bauhaus and ignited a passion for color that would be pivotal throughout his career. While taking courses at Black Mountain College in 1950, the young artist came into contact with Helen Frankenthaler and the esteemed critic of the day, Clement Greenberg. Through Greenberg, Noland was introduced to the world of Abstract Expressionism and the paintings of Jackson Pollock. Through a shared interest in Pollock’s work, Noland became friends with the painter Morris Louis who took him to Frankenthaler’s studio in 1953. Seeing her groundbreaking work with paint poured on unprimed canvas (like the triumphant Mountains & Sea of 1952), struck Noland, and he began to experiment with a similar technique of soaking and staining. This kinship with Frankenthaler lead to Noland’s inclusion in what Greenberg termed Post-Painterly Abstraction.
During his long and extraordinary career, Noland was included in several key survey exhibitions during the 1960s that helped define American Art of that era. These included the Venice XXXII Biennale; Documenta 4; Post-Painterly Abstraction, curated by Clement Greenberg at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 1964; The Responsive Eye at the Museum of Modern Art, New York in 1965; and New York Painting and Sculpture, 1940-1970 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York in 1969. He was honored with a career retrospective in 1977 by the Guggenheim Museum, New York.
Noland’s embracing of geometric shapes and clean lines allied him with the newly-minted school of hard-edge painting. In contrast to the diaphanous clouds of Frankenthaler or the frenetic sweeps of Pollock, works like Across take a sharp, minimal approach that refers visually to the color studies of Josef Albers. However, where Albers ruminated on interactions and complementary hues, Noland focused more on compositional structure and the direct contrast of each colored band to its neighbors and the painting at large. "I do open paintings," Noland maintained. "I like lightness, airiness, and the way color pulsates. The presence of the painting is all that's important" (K. Noland quoted in K. Moffett, Kenneth Noland, New York, 1977, p. 51). In Across, the four colors leap out at the viewer as both individuals and as a contrasting whole. Noland’s decisive compositions are at odds with earlier, more painterly works by the New York School, and primed the debate on where the future of painting lay.