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photo © 1984 Geoffrey Clifford


Robert Motherwell
Abstract Expressionist Artist

1915 - 1991

The public history of modern art
is the story of conventional people not
    knowing what they are dealing with.

                                             —Robert Motherwell



Robert Motherwell was born on January 24, 1915 in Aberdeen, Washington. Motherwell is one of the most recognized of the American Abstract Expressionist painters.

After receiving a Bachelor's degree in philosophy from Stanford University, and beginning graduate studies at Harvard, Motherwell set out in 1938 for a year of travel in Europe. It was during this trip that he began painting in earnest, holding his first one-man show at the Raymond Duncan Gallery in Paris in 1939.

Motherwell moved to Greenwich Village in 1941, abandoning his academic studies to paint full time. In 1942 he met abstract artist William Baziotes, and was introduced to many of the abstract expressionists of New York. In abstract expressionism the "act" of painting becomes the "content" of the painting. Through gestural movements the artist is attempting to unleash their raw emotions, not paint pretty pictures.

Motherwell created his first collages at Jackson Pollock's Studio in Greenwich Village and, along with Pollock and Baziotes was invited to exhibit at the Peggy Guggenheim "Art of This Century" gallery in New York City. For the next fifteen years he traveled extensively, taught art, and developed his style of painting, drawing and collage. Motherwell also participated in one-man and group exhibitions at galleries including The Museum of Modern Art in New York City.

In 1961 Motherwell began making limited edition prints of his work. He was the only one of the original abstract expressionists to enthusiastically embrace printmaking. Motherwell worked with numerous print workshops in the United States and Europe. These collaborations between the Motherwell and the printmakers were a source of great satisfaction to the artist. He synthesized his unique abstract style, and the materials and technical characteristics of printmaking to create over 200 editions over the next 30 years. Robert Motherwell died on July 16, 1991.

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Copyright © 1995-2014 Robin Chew
Article written by Robin Chew - January 1997