Robert Motherwell, ‘Open No. 1: In Yellow Ochre’, 1967, Dedalus Foundation

This picture and the Open series that grew out of it started with a chance encounter. In March 1967, Motherwell noticed a small vertical canvas that was leaning against a larger vertical canvas on which he had painted a yellow ochre ground. He decided to draw the outline of the smaller canvas in charcoal on the larger one, creating a door-like form that he planned to rework. But he liked the austere simplicity of the resulting image on the large canvas so much that a few months later he decided to turn it upside down, creating a kind of window, and leave it as it was.

Image rights: © Dedalus Foundation, Inc./Licensed by VAGA. New York, NY

Private collection

About Robert Motherwell

Alongside Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, and Willem de Kooning, Robert Motherwell is considered one of the great American Abstract Expressionist painters. His esteemed intellect not only undergirded his gorgeous, expressive paintings—frequently featuring bold black shapes against fields of color—but also made Motherwell one of the leading writers, theorists, and advocates of the New York School. He forged close friendships with the European Surrealists and other intellectuals over his interests in poetry and philosophy, and as such served as a vital link between the pre-war avant-garde in Europe and its post-war counterpart in New York, establishing automatism and psychoanalysis as central concerns of American abstraction. "It's not that the creative act and the critical act are simultaneous," Motherwell said. "It's more like you blurt something out and then analyze it.

American, 1915-1991, Aberdeen, Washington, based in New York and Greenwich, Connecticut