Robert Motherwell, ‘The Hollow Men’, 1983, Dedalus Foundation

Motherwell probably started this painting as an Elegy – as is still evident in the motif of repeated oval forms. But he moved instead toward a new kind of imagery, based on the depiction of abstracted figures drawn in a meandering, curvilinear fashion on an ocher ground. Motherwell later wrote that it conveyed not only the “straw men” of T. S. Eliot’s poem, but also a kind of “group resignation” (at one one time thought of calling it Ulysses’ Crew). The Hollow Men became the last major type of image to become
part of Motherwell’s painting repertory, and during the next several years he explored this new departure
in a number of different ways.

Additional information provided by the Dedalus Foundation

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

Art Gallery of Ontario. Anonymous gift, 2003

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