"Being an artist is about discovering things after you've done them. Like Cézanne - after twenty years of that mountain he found out what he was doing. If it isn't a process of discovery, it shows. I'm in it for the long haul."
- Kenneth Noland
A major contributor to both Color Field Painting movement and the Washington Color School, Kenneth Noland, along with Helen Frankenthaler and Morris Louis, was an early pioneer of the stain-painting technique. Noland was born in 1924 in Asheville, South Carolina, and was introduced to painting early by his father, who was an amateur artist. Following high school, Noland in 1942 enlisted in the US Air Force, serving for almost four years. After his tour of duty, he took advantage of the G.I. Bill to enroll at the acclaimed Black Mountain College, near his hometown.
Noland benefited from the college’s diverse and accomplished faculty, but was particularly influenced by Ilya Bolotowsky and Josef Albers, who together introduced him to such current artistic modes as geometric abstraction and Neo-Plasticism. After two years at Black Mountain, Noland went to Paris, France, to study with sculptor Ossip Zadkine before settling in the Washington, DC, area. There he supported himself by teaching while he situated himself in the greater DC art scene. He soon met Morris Louis, with whom in 1953, under the auspices of critic Clement Greenberg, he visited the New York studio of Helen Frankenthaler. Frankenthaler’s revolutionary method of using thinned pigment on raw canvas inspired Noland, and he adopted the technique in his own work.
Noland first began making and exhibiting his iconic “Circle” series—square canvases featuring concentric circles in various saturated colors—during the late 1950s, and in the early 1960s he expanded his image repertoire to include centrally positioned chevrons. His work attracted international attention in 1964, when it was included in Greenberg’s Post-Painterly Abstractionexhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and his paintings also appeared in the Venice Biennale, where they were shown alongside contributions by Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns.
During the 1960s Noland spent an increasing amount of time in rural Vermont, where he was in touch with the artistic community of Bennington College. Fellow artists Jules Olitski and Anthony Caro both taught there, and he formed close friendships with them. Noland continued experimenting with color and composition in his work until his death in 2010. His importance to postwar American painting, as well as his preference for highly recognizable motifs, has led many important collections to acquire his work, among them the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC; the Kunstmuseum, Basel; and the Tate Gallery, London.