Australian art

Morris Louis

Colour-field painting rejected many of the tenets of Abstract Expressionism, which was often concerned with gesture and texture. The main characteristics of the new style include radically simplified compositions, colours close in tonal value and intensity, and very large canvases.

These paintings often present expansive and seamless surfaces, using the technique of ‘staining’ which preserves the richness and purity of the colours. ‘Staining’ is produced by pouring diluted oil paint directly onto canvas, which causes the image to merge into the surface of the work. Synthetic polymer paint later replaced oils.

In 1953 Morris Louis was introduced to Helen Frankenthaler and this meeting was the catalyst for his own ‘staining’ technique. With Dalet zayin 1959, part of a group of paintings known as Veils, he began to experiment using unprimed canvas. Louis considered his next series, Unfurleds, to be his most ambitious works: Beta nu 1960 is more than seven metres wide. Between these two series came Nexus II 1959, which marks the transition between them. Nexus means connection or link. The earlier, multicoloured central waves of paint are here divided into two plain fields of colour pushed to the sides. Or are they, rather, encroaching on the centre? Or do these two effects occur simultaneously?