On June 25, 1965, the exhibition, "Washington Color Painters," opened at the Washington Gallery of Modern Art in celebration of the acclaimed movement of artists that flourished in the area. That these artists lived and worked in Washington D.C. kept them in steady contact with the New York art world simultaneously providing them distance to form their own artistic paths. What bound them together was a love of color and a fascination with the raw flatness of the canvas.
In the splashy, wildly expressionist environment of American Post-War abstract painting, the formalist canvases of Kenneth Noland and Morris Louis achieved intellectual respectability by rejecting expressionism's extreme emotion and overtly gestural painting technique. Revered critic and champion of both artists, Clement Greenberg writes: "The insistence on the purely visual and the denial of the tactile and ponderable remain in tradition-and would not result in convincing art did they not." (Art International, Volume IV/5, May 25, 1960).
Louis and Noland focus exclusively on the interpenetration of zones of color achieved by variations of hue as opposed to surface buildup of paint. In his earlier paintings, Morris Louis spills his paint on unsized and unprimed cotton duck canvases in a technique known as "veiling," leaving the pigment thin enough so that the eye is able to see beneath the surface of broad bands of color. Number 39 was created in the last year of his life when the artist devoted himself exclusively to the Stripes motif, leaving all other influences aside. A pure concentration on color carried him into an unprecedented area. In Indent, Kenneth Noland's preoccupation with a deceptively simple, specific composition of a circle within a square canvas, allows the artist to focus on color and line. Both artists' took the materials and the procedures of painting as their only subject matter.
The Washington Color School believed the closer color could be identified with its ground, the freer would it be from the interference of tactile associates. Theirs was an art of process, resulting in canvases that visually demonstrated a true competence in the handling of paint. Today, forty years after the historic exhibition in D.C., the canvases of Noland and Louis reveal not just a shared passion for color, but highly individualistic visions. Starting this September through January 2008, the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington D.C. will celebrate these achievements in the exhibition "Morris Louis Now: An American Master Revisited," highlighting the artist's extraordinary career and his contribution to Color Field painting in the mid- twentieth century.