"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 quoted in Kenneth Noland, New York, 1977, p. 58-60).
Kenneth Noland initiated his exploration into formal artistic principles of composition and color with his concentric circles, and expanded his geometric vocabulary to include stripes, diamonds and his series of Chevron paintings. Abandoning the circle, Noland explored V-shaped bands of colors that would come to define this series with their bold lines forming a vibrant, geometric shape. Cool Light-Oct. 6, 1965 is an impeccable example of Kenneth Noland’s early Chevron works, a series he only produced for three years. The work exhibits a sense of symmetry and chromatic sophistication that is exemplary of Noland’s control and strive towards innovation.
Beginning on the upper edge of a bare canvas, four distinct chevron stripes point downwards. The smallest, a royal blue triangle, sits atop the picture plane. A white band surrounds it in a bold outline with deep plum and fluorescent yellow following. Evenly spaced and oriented on its central axis, Cool Light-Oct. 6, 1965 is a blast of color descending towards the bottom of the canvas in perfect crisp stripes. The sharp contrast between the colors is enhanced by the soft unprimed canvas beneath, engaging a binary between the painted, energetic and positive space of the picture plane, and an unaltered, calm and negative space. As acclaimed critic Terry Fenton explains, “Like arrowheads moving down or across the picture surface, this dramatic layout 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," Salander-O'Reilly Galleries, Inc., Kenneth Noland: An Important Exhibition of Paintings from 1958 through 1989, New York, 1989, p. 11). Noland was not only extremely precise in his choice and order of the colored bands, but his decision to leave the chevrons’ surroundings untouched was equally conscious.
Kenneth Noland’s artistic development was highly influenced by his exposure to and collaboration with other notable artists of the day. At North Carolina’s legendary Black Mountain College, Noland came under the mentorship of Josef and Anni Albers who taught him theories from Bauhaus. Albers's series of Homage to the Square paintings ignited a passion for color that would be pivotal throughout Kenneth Noland’s career. Eventually Noland would travel abroad to France, where his intensive study of the Fauves rounded out his academic study of color. Upon his return from Europe, Noland met Clement Greenberg, arguably the most influential art critic of the time, in the summer of 1950. The relationship would prove immensely significant to Noland’s development as an artist. Greenberg publicly promoted Noland’s work in an array of writings, most notably in an Art International article, “If Noland has to be categorized, I would call him a ‘color’ painter too. His 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 K. Moffett, Kenneth Noland, New York, 1977, p. 51).
In 1953, Noland took a trip to New York with fellow artist Morris Louis to visit Helen Frankenthaler’s studio. They were exposed to her groundbreaking work and visionary staining techniques with paint poured onto unprimed canvas. This experience inspired a period of collaborative experimentation, during which Louis and Noland began to develop techniques and stylistic markers that would soon become their signatures. Louis, like Frankenthaler, poured paint directly onto unprimed canvas, while Noland took a more calculated approach, using brushes and rollers to control the application of paint to canvas. Noland’s early Target series, that would serve as a precursor to the present work, is a direct result of influences by Joseph Albers, Clement Greenberg, Morris Louis, and Helen Frankenthaler.
Into the 1960s, Noland continued to mature his style into his Chevron series by using these color field approaches to painting inside of a rigid compositional structure. He created a contrast between the uncontrolled cascades of disembodied color soaking into the thirsty weave of unprimed canvas and the distinct bands of color perfectly layered to create the illusion of an outline. “It's a simple fact, when you move from one color space to another color space, that if there's a value contrast you get a strong optical illusion. Strong value contrast can be expressive and dramatic. Like the difference between high or low volume or the low key and the high keys on the piano” (Kenneth Noland interview with D. Waldman in Art in America, vol. 65, no 3, May – June 1977). During this decade, Noland was included in several key exhibitions that helped define contemporary American Art at that time. 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.
By 1977, his inspiration and influence were so great that the Guggenheim Museum in New York honored him with a career retrospective. Cool Light-Oct. 6, 1965 epitomizes Noland’s life exploration into the expression of pure color. While originally classified with the New York School, his decisive and graphic canvases are at odds with the more painterly works by Louis and Frankenthaler. However, his compositions were far too abstract to be categorized with Pop artists of the time as well. Noland’s Chevron series blurred the traditional definitions of the two most prevalent groups of artistic thought at the time, and primed the debate on where the future of painting lay.