This work will be included in the forthcoming catalogue raisonné of paintings and collages being prepared by the Dedalus Foundation.
Executed in 1956, Handle with Care is a collage that pays tribute to the influence of Dada on Robert Motherwell as well as providing a window into his life. The collage technique had been pioneered and developed by the Dada artists, about whom Motherwell wrote The Dada Painters and Poets five years earlier. Motherwell, who was deeply interested in automatism and psychology, took their medium and converted it to his own uses: allowing chance and spontaneity to play some part in the creation of his collages meant that these works supplied some solace and contrast, in the form of movement, to the labours of the increasingly planned and prescribed oils that he was painting during this period. In this sense, he transferred some of the energy of Action Painting into this alternative medium. The torn edges of the paper fragments adds to a heightened sense of gestural application and of movement, which is in turn further accentuated by the bold strokes of black and white paint.
Despite Handle with Care's focus on spontaneity, its composition has been carefully dictated, allowing the artist to create something that adheres to his own aesthetic code. The dominance of his hallmark black combines with elements from his own life which are arranged with a composition that recalls some the collages of the Cubists, especially Juan Gris. Perched in the centre as though on an invisible guéridon, these fragments of Motherwell's life double both as formal elements within a work of art, and as intriguing insights into the domestic and intimate world of the artist himself.