The Blue Door
Robert Motherwell frequently worked in series, exploring a specific visual motif but often on different sized canvases, on which he tended to work back and forth simultaneously. This work is related to his well-known “Open” series (started in 1968): newly spare paintings in which a partial rectangle of black lines descends from the top edge of the canvas into a field of color. At times, the lines angle as if indicating perspective; sometimes they have been painted out, then repainted with a slight shift, as if Motherwell were looking for the perfect, poetic architecture of line amid his painterly expanse. The “Open” series was born when Motherwell noticed the enticing “congress of shapes” created by a smaller rectangular painting leaning up against a larger canvas in his studio. The resultant works, he said, came to reflect his interest in “nature that has been modified by man—parks or town squares with walls” and in “the stark beauty of dividing a flat solid plane.”
Yet The Blue Door also has a particular historical reference, not unusual for Motherwell, who was perhaps the most intellectual and art-historically learned of the Abstract Expressionists. It is close kin to a five-part work, also from 1973, that Motherwell entitled The Blue Painting Lesson, which recalls Henri Matisse’s The Piano Lesson, 1916, with its radical abstract geometry, strange green trapezoid, similarly hued blue, and radical fusion of indoor and outdoor spaces. The Blue Door contains virtually a compendium of the lines that appear individually in The Blue Painting Lesson. Here, the “door” becomes an opening of pictorial space. For Motherwell, color always remained symbolic: blue was the sky and the sea.
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