Georgescu-Extra Credit Exhibition

Dora Georgescu


Extra Credit Exhibition Essay

Robert Motherwell: Capturing Effects With New Creativity

“What I realized was that Americans potentially could paint like angels but that there was no creative principle around, so that everybody who liked modern art was copying it. Gorky was copying Picasso. Pollock was copying Picasso. De Kooning was copying Picasso. I mean I say this unqualifiedly. I was painting French intimate pictures or whatever. And all we needed was a creative principle, I mean something that would mobilize this capacity to paint in a creative way, and that’s what Europe had that we hadn’t had; we had always followed in their wake” (Cummins).

Here Robert Motherwell’s words shed light on his artistic vision as a leader of the Abstract Expressionism movement. Born in Washington in 1915, Motherwell had a varied educational background whose influence is visible throughout his works, providing a creative artistic approach.  When I went to see an exhibition of his works at the Denver Art Museum, there were three pieces that especially stood out to me due to their demonstration of Motherwell’s desire to capture feelings and effects rather than distinct images. Having visited the Clyfford Stil Museum and studied Abstract Expressionism, I believe that I was able to appreciate Motherwell’s art more now than I might have at the beginning of the semester.

The first piece I saw was titled Samurai 3. Three intersecting black lines with two distorted circles form what appears to be an amoeba-human hybrid. This creature, with small specks of black paint emerging from the top half, is painted thick upon a faded yellow background. Because it was titled Samurai 3, I couldn’t help but think of a disciplined warrior indoctrinated in order and honor. Yet, true to his style of capturing feeling and effect creatively, Motherwell did not create a Samuri that fully embodies this image. Rather, the canvas presents what I would describe as orderly chaos. Although Motherwell did not apply paint as freely as Jackson Pollock–another artist of the Abstract Expressionism movement– did in many of his woks, a feeling of instantaneous and liberal application of thick paint exists none-the-less. Yet, hints of Samurai order can be found because the paint remains contained by the canvas rather than appearing to spill over as is visible in other Abstract Expressionism works.

While Samurai 3 is created with paint on canvas, Motherwell explores another medium with his watercolor on paper work Three Persons with a Book. Aside from the difference in technique, this piece is also less abstract than Samurai 3. Although they are composed of stacked blocks and lines, three figures are clearly visible with a book between them. Once again black and yellow are the dominating colors but rather than juxtaposing each other, they are overlapped in a more equally shared space. Because this piece was composed of various shapes, I found it less representative of typical Abstract Expressionism and more representative of Cubism. This observation made sense when I looked at the date and realized that it was created years prior to Samurai 3. As the quote that introduces this paper indicates, Motherwell strove to move away from Cubism and other similarly dominant art movements of his time and delve into a more creative artistic expression.

This effort for creativity is most visible in one of his later works, a collage titled New York City. By combining paint, paper, cardboard, and pencil, Motherwell not only creates a creative piece but he also achieves his goal of capturing “not the thing, but the effect it produces” (Museum plaque). This effect is that of chaos and diversity. Chaotic and vibrant, this collage does not in any way recall a city; rather it embodies the atmosphere of New York City. So as to express this to the viewer, Motherwell kindly wrote NYC in pencil at the top of the piece. Bright orange, blue and red stand against dull brown, black and grey. I found the use of colors to be as essential to producing the effect of the city as the mix of mediums is. To me the vibrant colors juxtaposed to the dull colors represent the coexistence of the exciting and the mundane in life and certainly in a place like New York City.

Although rather limited in number of works, the Motherwell exhibition at the Denver Art Museum displayed a variety of his works, which I believe captured his numerous dimensions as a pioneer of Abstract Expressionism. To me, the three works discussed in this paper demonstrate Motherwell’s progression from influences of older contemporary art movements to his own unique version of Abstract Expressionism.


Cummins, Paul. “Oral history interview with Robert Motherwell”. 1971 Nov. 24-1974            Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: