Washington Color School


A group of abstract painters working in Washington, D.C. during the mid-1950s through the ’60s. As indicated by the name—which derives from a 1965 exhibition at the Washington Gallery of Modern Art featuring works by Morris Louis, Kenneth Noland, Paul Reed, Howard Mehring, Thomas Downing, and Gene Davis—color was of central importance to this group, and many of them explored its optical effects or transcendent properties in their paintings. These artists rose to prominence during a decade dominated by the gestural abstraction of the so-called New York School, represented most prominently by Jackson Pollock. What distinguished the Washington Color painters was their rejection of gesture in favor of flat planes of color (“Color Field Painting”) and their use of novel techniques, such as staining canvases with heavily diluted paint (a technique first developed by Helen Frankenthaler, one of the earliest and most influential members of the group) and pouring paint across canvases, as in the work of Louis. They were among the earliest adopters of acrylic paint, which they often applied directly onto raw, unprimed canvas.

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