Robert Motherwell, ‘The Little Spanish Prison’, 1941 -1944, Dedalus Foundation

This is one of the first paintings Motherwell created after his return from Mexico in November 1941,
which synthesizes his main sources of inspiration at the time: psychic automatism and Mondrian. It began as an automatist work, with freely painted organic forms; but Motherwell eventually transformed it into a strikingly original geometrical composition, that both refers to and defies Mondrian’s strict geometry. This picture is at once a powerful political document and also a deeply moving personal image, which suggests a struggle between the forces of confinement – embodied in the vertical bars – and of resistance, articulated by the horizontal magenta rectangle.

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

The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of Renate Ponsold

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