Barnett Newman 1905 – 1970 was an American artist. He is seen as one of the major figures in abstract expressionism and one of the foremost of the colour field painters.
He was born in New York, the son of Jewish immigrants from Russian Poland. He studied philosophy at the City College of New York and worked in his father's business manufacturing clothing. From the 1930s he made paintings, said to be in an expressionist style, but eventually destroyed all these works.
Throughout the 1940s he worked in a surrealist vein before developing his mature style. This is characterised by areas of colour separated by thin vertical lines, or ‘zips’ as Newman called them. In the first works featuring zips, the colour fields are variegated, but later the colours are pure and flat.
The zip remained a constant feature of Newman's work throughout his life. In some paintings of the 1950s, such as The Wild, which is eight feet tall by one and a half inches wide, the zip is all there is to the work.
Newman's late works, such as the Who's Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue? series, use vibrant, pure colours, often on very large canvases - Anna's Light (1968), named in memory of his mother who had died in 1965, is his largest work, twenty-eight feet wide by nine feet tall.
Two paintings from Who's Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue? series
Newman also worked on shaped canvases late in life, with Chartres and Jericho for example, being triangular.