Robert Motherwell, ‘Open Study in Charcoal on Grey #2’, 1974, Bernard Jacobson Gallery

Robert Motherwell’s Open series is the culmination of the artist’s evocative search for meaning in a conceptual framework primarily during the late 1960’s and 1970’s; the title signals the open-ended referentiality of monochromatic painting. Typically the artist employs the all-over method of using pure colour upon which he draws free hand the marks that hint to another opening such as a window or door. Motherwell successfully alludes to the painting as a two dimensional flat object as well as a field in which architectural space is rendered. The intriguing nature of Open Study in Charcoal on Grey, #2 is that its painted field suggests a physical space that extends infinitely, seeming to suggest a reality existing beyond the edges of the canvas, the painting not distinct from the world, but rather a part of it. At the same time, the painting always retains its nature as a painterly surface, never falling into the character of an illusion, never hiding its nature as a painting. The canvas projects a strongly frontal, rectilinear, and architectural appearance. “In Mexico, in the old days, they built the four walls of a house solid, without windows or doors, beautifully proportioned, out of the solid adobe wall. There is something in me that responds to that, to the stark beauty of dividing a flat solid plane,” Motherwell observed (R. Motherwell, et al, Robert Motherwell, New York, 1983. p. 15).
Motherwell’s allusion to the window reveal his dedicated study of the work of Henri Matisse. Matisse’s incredibly lush yet rigorous canvases inspired Motherwell’s search for ‘volupte,’ a Symbolist term referring to sensuality or sensations pertaining to the concrete world. Matisse’s Blue Window, 1912 from the collection of the Museum of Modern Art was a source of study for Motherwell. Matisse’s depiction of an interior within the field of all-over tonal blue is a revelation of how the interior space can be simultaneously perceived as the exterior outdoors. The ambiguity of space surrounding the objects in the foreground and the nature shown in the background is delineated by the proportionate drawing depicting these divisions and how scale of those lines affect the viewer’s understanding of pictorial space. The modulated surface of the grey field in the present work also alludes to his friend and colleague Mark Rothko’s paintings of rectangular fields that also can be viewed as doorways and/or openings. They share the modulated surface of the painting that create the most subtle field of pure colour without completely leaving the concrete underpinnings of the real world.

Signature: Signed lower left 'RM' (recto)

Bernard Jacobson Gallery, London, Robert Motherwell: Open, 17th June – 28th August 2009.
Museo de Arte Moderno, Mexico City, Robert Motherwell: Retrospectiva del gran pintor Norteamericano, March-May 1975, cat. no. 36 as Untitled (Open Study in Charcoal on Grey No. 2).

Hobbs, R., Kuspit, D., Mattison, R., Ostrow, S., Yau, J., Collings, M. Robert Motherwell ‘Open’. London: 21 Publishing. Illustrated p. 141
J. Dorfman, "Deep Water", Art & Antiques, September 2012, pp. 66 (illustrated in colour).
Flam, J., Rogers, K., Clifford, T., 2012. Robert Motherwell Paintings and Collages: A Catalogue Raisonné 1941 – 1991. New Haven: Yale University Press. Volume 2, p. 396, catalogue rais. no. P801.
Mattison et al. 2009 colour illus. p. 141

Dedalus Foundation, New York, 1991
Manny Silverman Gallery, Los Angeles
Private Collection
Bernard Jacobson Gallery, London

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