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Art Movement in Focus : Colourfield Abstraction – An Introduction

Welcome to Art Movement in Focus! In this section, we explore significant art movements in history through a series of articles dedicated to each movement. Here’s looking at one of the key movements to have come out of the 1940s and 50s in New York – Colourfield Abstraction.

Colourfield Abstraction – An Introduction

When you hear Colourfield Abstraction many of you will immediately picture a colour-wheel and your first-grade art teacher who taught you how to mix colour. Often, primary, secondary and complementary colours dominated the walls of our primary school classroom. Can you remember your first attempts at trying to obtain the colour purple? We do – when we would mix the red and blue all we got was different shades of brown.

Well , Colourfield Abstraction and the works that are categorised within it are not very different from our first forrays and play with colour as young humans. The intent of artists such as Rothko and Newman was, in fact, to return to that exuberant state of discovering and playing with colour. This, according to us is at the heart of Colourfield Abstraction. Presented here is a shortlist of our Top 6 Colourfield Abstraction Artists as well as 6 works by these artists that defined the Colourfield Abstraction Movement according to us.

OUR TOP 6 Colourfield Abstraction Artists :

The artists listed below as part of the Art Movement in Focus – Colourfield Abstraction do not solely belong to this one movement. Like many 20th century artists, both modern and contemporary, these artists embody artistic exploration across medium, styles and movements.

  1. Mark Rothko
  2. Barnett Newman
  3. Clyfford Still
  4. Helen Frankenthaler
  5. Kenneth Noland
  6. Morris Louis


The works that were born out of this experimentation of colour in the late 20th century have often been described as ‘flat expanses of colour – melting into one another.’ This description would be quite accurate, as that is exactly what we find when we look at the works listed below. There is definitely some interplay, interaction and intermingling of the colours on the canvas. However, there is not much texture, figuration or even working of the colour through physical gestures as is often found with pure expressionists and abstractionists.

Colourfield Abstraction invites the viewer to swim in the freedom expressed on canvas. We invite you to join us as we dip into these 6 artworks.

Mark Rothko
Red on Maroon

Red on Maroon 1959, Mark Rothko (1903-1970)
Presented to the Tate by the artist through the American Federation of Arts 1969
image courtesy:

Barnett Newman
1951, 1952

Adam 1951-52, Barnett Newman (1905-1970)
Purchased 1968 by the Tate
image courtesy:

Clyfford Still

1953 (1953), Clyfford Still 1904-1980
Purchased by Tate in 1971
image courtesy:

Helen Frankenthaler
East and Beyond

East and Beyond (1973), Helen Frankenthaler 1928-2011
Not on view, in the collection of MOMA
image courtesy:

Kenneth Noland
Sarah’s Reach

Sarah’s Reach (1964), Kenneth Noland 1924-2010
Museum purchase from the Vincent Melzac Collection through the Smithsonian Institution Collections Acquisition Program, currently not on view
image courtesy:

Morris Louis
Pillar of Fire

Pillar of Fire (1961), Morris Louis 1912 -1962
A highly collectible work that often finds its way under the hammer at Auction Houses around the world.

For more such quick introductions and lists regarding Art History, visit Art Movement in Focus.

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