Robert Motherwell, ‘Totemic Figure’, 1958 -1960, Dedalus Foundation

This painting was begun in 1958 as an automatist, color-field painting. Motherwell added the upward-thrusting “figurative” element a couple of years later. This lent the composition a strong feeling of electric tension, mixed with the mysterious sense of an other-worldly presence.

Additional information provided by the Dedalus Foundation

Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid

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