CHICAGO, IL.- The art and rhetoric of Robert Motherwell helped define the New York School, a group of abstract painters active in the 1940s and 1950s that also included Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, and Willem de Kooning. With an extensive academic background, Motherwell acted as the movements unofficial spokesperson, writing and speaking about his generation of artists.
Influenced by surrealism and psychology, Motherwell employed techniques designed to release the artistic process from rational control and express the subconscious, as seen, for example, in his Lyric Suite drawings. His art explored themes both intimate, such as a series of collages incorporating personal items like cigarette packets and pieces of mail, and international, like Elegy to the Spanish Republic, a subject he reworked in various formats throughout his life.
Robert Motherwell: An Attitude Toward Reality, From the Collection of the Walker Art Center offers an overview and introduction to the artist, spanning more than four decades of his career with more than 40 drawings, collages, prints, and paintings. The exhibition is organized by the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis.
Motherwell was born in Aberdeen, Washington. The family later moved to San Francisco, where Motherwell's father served as president of Wells Fargo Bank. Robert Motherwell received his Bachelor of Arts degree in philosophy from Stanford University in 1937 and completed one year of a philosophy Ph.D. at Harvard before shifting fields to art and art history, studying under Meyer Schapiro at Columbia University. His rigorous background in rhetoric would serve him and the abstract expressionists well, as he was able to tour the country giving speeches that articulated to the public what it was that he and his friends were doing in New York. Without his tireless devotion to communication (in addition to his prolific painting), well-known abstract expressionists like Rothko, who was extremely shy and rarely left his studio, might not have made it into the public eye. Motherwell's collected writings are a truly exceptional window into the abstract expressionist world. He was a lucid and engaging writer, and his essays are considered a bridge for those who want to learn more about non-representational art but who are put off by dense art criticism.