Line and Flat Plane / by Karen Matheis


I am thinking about Barnett Newman's "zips."  His zips were thin lines created by masking off thin portions of the canvas, then painting squares around it.  Sometimes he painted a line on top of the painted squares.  Although some thought he was crazy when he first started his new style of painting, he was very influential for minimalist and colorfield painters. 

Newman rejected the painterly abstract expressionist style when he created his zips.  Newman believed that the modern world had rendered traditional art subjects and styles invalid, especially in the post-World War II years shadowed by conflict, fear, and tragedy. He wrote: "old standards of beauty were irrelevant: the sublime was all that was appropriate - an experience of enormity which might lift modern humanity out of its torpor."

Newman had specific ways in which he wanted to viewer to see his work.  The viewer is to stand about 18 inches from the work.  Newman wanted the experience of a spark when standing before his work.