NOLAND CHEVRONS

1964-1966

Noland's "Circles" exploited quadrilateral symmetry, gaining expression from the expansion and contraction of color against square formats. It was a means to a pictorial ­ not simply decorative ­ end.

When that "circle in a square" format was exhausted, Noland looked for a new one, one that would enable his developing color expression in a new way. His transitional pictures abandoned quadrilateral symmetry in favor of bilateral symmetry, gaining tension by moving the "center" of his images up and down within the picture rectangle -- especially down. In some of these transitional paintings, "rays" of color emanated from a point at the bottom edge. It was a simple step from these to arrangements of parallel-banded chevrons, with one point at or near the center of the bottom edge and the lower edges of one band intersecting the top corners of the picture. This arrangement provided a measured stability which could be played off against the picture rectangle ­ no longer necessarily a square ­ in a new way. In effect, Noland inverted the traditional stability of the tarditional stable pyramid (much used in the High Renaissance) gaining dynamism as a result. The dynamism could be increased by breaking away from symmetry by shifting the lower point of the chevrons off center, in the process creating a new tension between depicted shape and the picture rectangle.

Noland's next step involved changing the orientation of the picture rectangle, hanging it as a square diamond with chevrons parallel to two sides In this case dynamism was predicated by the format, itself. (When the diamonds were set on the square the dynamism vanished.)

These square diamonds were best ­ or so it strikes my eye ­ when the chevrons moved horizontally across (as above) rather than pointing up or down. Again, the implied movement across the picture played off against the stability of the diamond. This wasn't the case when the diamond format was narrowed. In that case the pictures seemed best when the diamonds were set on the horizontal and the chevrons pointed gently down, seemingly at rest.

None of the foregoing involves color. Without color, the "Chevrons" would be decorative formats; Noland's developing color animated them. The formats themselves may be emblematic and schematic, but Noland's color is nothing like the color of simple emblems ­ it works against the emblem, just as the depicted shapes and bands work against the inherent stabilities of the picture rectangle. Stabilities are at once destabilized and pictorially rebalanced.