Theroux's splendid introduction takes account of the "sculptural" character of Noland's shaped paintings. Lest this be misunderstood, I should point out that that the paintings themselves are not sculptures. But they do exploit something of the presence of sculpture, something that Picasso did in a different way, but that few other artists have accomplished significantly since the great early Cubists. Noland's "shapes" cut out against the wall, but in addition the shaping in conjunction with color-drawing subtly inflects their surfaces, implying a turning or shifting or opening within the surface. This is purely illusionary, but it adds to the peculiar "sculptural" immediacy if the paintings.
Given this, Theroux's description of Noland as "an anatomist of human response" is particularly apt. Simply to describe these paintings as "physical presences" doesn't do them justice. They awaken what I can only call a bodily response. No other artist that I know of confronts the viewer so immediately and subliminally.
I feel bound to note that Theroux's use of the word "picturesque" differs from its traditional. art-historical usage which refers to a certain kind of subject matter in landscape painting, but his own meaning is clear and to the point.
These are risky pictures. Notice how uninflected and close to decorator-colors the grounds often are. In most cases color hugs some of the borders, doing little more than emphasize and subtly inflect it: those emphases and the irregular shapes themselves prize the pictures away from the wall, stamping them out against it yet in the process, in some mysterious way, it calls their own flatness into question. That stamping-out wrenches them away from the merely decorative. These are masterpieces of eloquence and mystery. Years ago, a collector friend purchased one of the originals from an exhibition in New York in 1980. That show was a success d'estime; artists loved it but few collectors did. I've seen that painting many times in my friends home and, after his death, in other locations. No matter where, it was always commanding.