Kenneth Noland was an American abstract painter and sculptor. With the help of the G.I. bill, he and his brothers enrolled in the Black Mountain College, an experimental program directed by the former Bauhaus professor, Joseph Albers with whom he studied color theory. While Noland was critical of Albers’ teaching, which he saw as doctrinaire, he did latch on to Ilya Bolotowsky, who sealed his dedication to color and abstraction.
After a year in Paris and a solo exhibition at Galerie Raymond Creuze, Noland moved to Washington, D.C. to begin teaching at the now defunct Institute of Contemporary Art. The ICA is where Noland developed an important friendship with Morris Louis and the more established sculptor David Smith. During the summers, Noland returned to the Black Mountain College to participate in its renowned summer classes, which were taught by Clement Greenburg among others. It was during this time that Greenburg introduced Noland to Abstract Expressionism and would continue to guide Noland’s work through the 1950s and ‘60s.
Noland’s hallmark technique of staining canvases arose from a trip to New York City with Morris Louis, when Clement Greenburg took them to see Helen Frankenthaler’s studio. This was an influential experience for both Louis and Noland and resulted in Noland’s experimentation with targets saturated in concentric rings of color on raw canvas. He became a defining Color Field painter by rhythmically exploring a wide range of acrylic hues in a visual language of chevrons, diamonds, horizontal bands, and plaid patterns on variously shaped canvases, one as wide as 24 feet. In his later work, Noland returned to painting centered, concentric orbs, but on a smaller scale with thicker layers of color.
Noland lived and worked in New York City for a year. In 1963, he left to teach at Bennington College in Vermont, where he moved to a farm in South Shaftsbury formerly owned by the poet Robert Frost. There he entered into a close working relationship with the painter Jules Olitski and the British sculptor Anthony Caro, who both taught at Bennington College.
Noland’s work has been shown in a number of major group exhibitions, including those at the Museum of Modern Art, New York (1965); Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (1969); Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (1971); and Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago (1985). He was included in the Venice Biennale (1964), and the Guggenheim Museum hosted his first retrospective (1977). His work has been the subject of solo exhibitions at the Museo de arte moderno, Mexico City (1983); Museo de bella artes, Bilbao, Spain (1985); Tate, Liverpool (2006); and Butler Institute of American Art, Youngstown, Ohio (1986 and 2007). Noland taught at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York (1985), and received an honorary doctorate of fine arts from Davidson College, North Carolina (1997).
Kenneth Noland died in 2010 in Port Clyde, Maine, and was honored that year with a solo presentation of his work at the Guggenheim Museum, entitled Kenneth Noland, 1924–2010: A Tribute.