Artist: Barnett Newman (American, New York 1905–1970 New York)

Date: 1949

Medium: Oil and masking tape on canvas

Dimensions: 89 3/4 x 53 5/8 in. (228 x 136.2 cm)

Classification: Paintings

Credit Line: George A. Hearn Fund, 1968

Accession Number: 68.178

Rights and Reproduction: © 2016 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York


Newman was interested in creating an art of "pure idea" that could speak to man's tragic condition, yielding metaphysical understanding. To reach that state, the art would have to jettison all narrative, all figuration, and even pare down detail and painterly incident. By 1948, he had honed his concept of "pure idea." He explored the philosophical notion articulated by Edmund Burke in the eighteenth century that the merely beautiful be renounced in favor of something greater and more meaningful: the sublime. Newman spoke of artists' need for "freeing ourselves of impediments" in order to produce images of "revelation, real and concrete." And by 1948, Newman had developed his own unique format, designed to express these concerns of meaning and content.

Newman's compositions are built around a strict format: a field of color is bisected vertically by one or a few bands (narrow or wide) that he referred to as "zips." Such extreme minimalism, though, derives from an approach described by the artist as intuitive: "I start each painting as if I had never painted before. … I have no formal solutions … I paint out of high passion, and although my way of working may seem simple, for me it is difficult and complex." Concord is not a geometric picture. The colored field is not meant as a void on which a simple boundary is delineated. Pictures like this one ask the viewer to consider whether space alone, without narrative detail, can convey meaning. In Newman's words, "Instead of using outlines, instead of making shapes or setting off spaces my drawing declares the space." The zip is "a field that brings life to the other fields, just as the other fields bring life to this so-called line."