Robert Motherwell, ‘The Studio’, 1987, Bernard Jacobson Gallery

For Robert Motherwell, titling a work was not an exercise of strict description, but, rather of suggestion. The title of this work, The Studio, provides a preliminary association and context for what this scene might depict. In viewing the work, however, the interior space is ambiguous and abstract, different than the viewer's initial expectation. What one does recognise, instead, is a scene that has successfully combined many of the artist’s widely used and recognised formal characteristics and motifs. By placing these elements together in a studio setting, this work of Motherwell’s late oeuvre exudes a high degree of self-reflection.
The most immediate and striking element of this work is the red background, which provides an eye-catching backdrop to the rich blues, blacks, greens and yellows in the foreground of the canvas. Having been profoundly influenced by his early trips in Mexico, Motherwell translated these travels into his painting through the saturated, vibrant colours of his subsequent canvases. In the centre of the canvas, are two bulbous black forms reminiscent of Motherwell’s Elegy series. Such black forms were at the heart of the series’ pictorial language, which served as a response to the Spanish Civil War, an event that morally consumed the artist. The thin black lines, which are reoccurring in this work, are often incorporated in Motherwell’s paintings. The most well-known representations of these line constructions were the rectangle forms that made up his Open series. These forms created a window-like mechanism to the open space with which they were set against. The black lines in this painting, although not formally exact to those in the Open series, create a similar intimate and painterly quality which contributed greatly to the artist’s overall expressionist style.
The artist studio is a commonly explored art historical subject. One of the most well-known examples is Henri Matisse’s masterpiece The Red Studio, from 1911. The vibrant red colour that makes up the space and the display of Matisse’s own paintings and sculpture within the room correlate directly to Motherwell’s depiction of his own studio. By filling the studios with their own retrospective, one can sense the profound presence of each artist within the canvas. For Motherwell an exploration of his history is fitting as he was an artist who “carried everything along with him in his personal continuum.” (Dore Ashton, Robert Motherwell, Locks Gallery, 1992, p. 8).

Signature: Recto not signed, not dated Verso not seen Artist's studio number: P89-1158

Museo Rufino Tamayo, Mexico City, Robert Motherwell: The Open Door, 1991. This exhibition later travelled to Museo de Monterrey, Monterrey and Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Forth Worth (illustrated, n.p.).
Gagosian Gallery, New York, In the Studio: Paintings, curated by John Elderfield, 17 February - 18 April 2015.

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. 545, Cat.rais.no. P1140
Elderfield, J., 2015. In The Studio: Paintings. New York: Gagosian Gallery. Illustrated in colour p. 163.

Dedalus Foundation, New York, 1991
Collection of Roberta Mann, 2002
Bentley Gallery, Scottsdale.
Elizabeth Green Romano, 2003
Sotheby's New York, 14 November 2012.
Bernard Jacobson Gallery, London, 2012.

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