What could be more interesting, or in the end, more ecstatic, than in those rare moments when you see another person look at something you’ve made, and realize that they got it exactly, that your heart jumped to their heart with nothing in between. – Robert Motherwell

No one was better prepared to bring American art into its own than Robert Motherwell. His educational background in both art and philosophy, and his move to from his California home, to study at Harvard and then to New York in 1940, placed him in the perfect position to influence the art and artists of the time.

The 1940s were a turbulent time, when many European artists fled to New York for safety. Surrealists Max Ernst, Marcel Duchamp, and other exiled artists, influenced Motherwell’s thinking about art, and led him to embrace  automatism, the idea that art is a manifestation of the artist’s subconscious.

Motherwell’s ideas laid the foundation for Abstract Expressionism, which he named The New York School. “What I realized was that Americans potentially could paint like angels,” Motherwell said, “but that there was no creative principle around, so that everybody who liked modern art was copying it.”

The European artists in New York were getting a lot of attention, as well as exhibitions, and it was Peggy Guggenheim who helped Robert Motherwell spark his career when she asked him to be part of a collage show that included modern European artists.

Not only did the show spark his career, it also led to the use of collage throughout his lifetime.

Most painting in the European tradition was painting the mask. Modern art rejected all  that. Our subject matter was the person behind the mask.

Harvest with Two White Stripes at VFA

Harvest with Two White Stripes, available at VFA, was created in 1973. Motherwell used a box of Ernte 23 cigarettes, a German brand that was very popular in the 1920s, especially noted for its use of orange and red in its design, making it stand out from other brands at the time.

Ernte means harvest in German. The cigarettes became popular with the American troops stationed in Germany after World War ll.

To pick up a cigarette wrapper or wine label or an old letter or the end of a carton is my way of dealing with those things that do not originate in me, in my I.

Motherwell often incorporated materials that he found in his studio as part of his collages. The strong visual design of the empty cigarette package in the lithograph composition demonstrates both Motherwell’s mastery of collage and his playful intellect.

Robert Motherwell Prints at VFA

Please contact us if you would like more information about Harvest with Two White Stripes, Black and Blue from the Basque Series or any of the fine art prints available at VFA.

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