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"Kenneth Noland, Bridge, 1964; Noland was a prominent member of the Washington Color School. Bridge is from his Chevron series.

The Washington Color School, a visual art movement that originated in the late 1950s through the late-1960s centered in "Washington, D.C., describes a form of image making that's primarily concerned with "color field painting, a form of non-objective or non-representational art that explored ways to use large solid areas of paint. The Washington Color School originally consisted of a group of painters who showed works in an exhibit called the "Washington Color Painters" at the now-defunct "Washington Gallery of Modern Art in Washington from June 25 to September 5, 1965. The exhibition's organizer was Gerald "Gerry" Nordland and the painters initially included "Sam Francis, "Sam Gilliam, "Gene Davis, "Morris Louis, "Kenneth Noland, "Howard Mehring, "Hilda Thorpe, "Thomas "Tom" Downing, and "Paul Reed. This exhibition, which subsequently traveled to several other venues in the United States, including the "Walker Art Center, solidified Washington's place in the national movement and defined what is considered the city's signature art movement, according to art historians and journalists alike, including Jean Lawler Cohen of "The Washington Post who describes how the Washington Color School "earned its stripes on the national stage."[1]



The Washington Color School artists painted largely non-representational works, and were central to the larger "color field movement.["according to whom?] Though not generally considered "abstract expressionists due to the orderliness of their works and differing motivating philosophies, many parallels can be drawn between the Washington Color School and the abstract expressionists. Minimally, the use of stripes, washes, and fields of single colors of paint on canvas were common to most artists in both groups. A common technique used in the Washington Color School was "soak staining" or just "staining", where one would pour a thinned painting medium onto canvas and let it sit over time. The result would be a stain in the canvas with no visible traces of conventional application, such as brush strokes.[2]

After their initial benchmark exhibition, Davis, Mehring, Downing, and Reed exhibited at "Jefferson Place Gallery, originally directed by "Alice Denney and later owned and directed by Nesta Dorrance. Other artists associated with the group include: "Anne Truitt, "Mary Pinchot Meyer, Leon Berkowitz,[3] "Jacob Kainen[4] "Alma Thomas, and James Hilleary,[5] and others. The group is sometimes thought to have expanded, as it achieved a dominant presence in the Washington, D.C. visual art community through the 1960s into the 1970s. Along with the original Washington Color School painters, a second generation also exhibited at Jefferson Place Gallery. The movement remained influential even as some of its members dispersed elsewhere.


"Hilda Thorpe (Hilda Shapiro Thorpe) was a color field painter who made oversized paintings and paper sculptures who taught a generation of artists in the Washington, D.C. area. Other Washington Color School female artists include: "Anne Truitt (whose work relates to the 'minimalist-purity' side of three-dimensional painterly objects and painters), "Mary Pinchot Meyer, and "Alma Thomas. Other works that reflect the Washington Color School include "Sam Gilliam's suspended paintings (whose style can be described by some as "Baroque), "Rockne Krebs' transparent sculptures, light and laser works, Ed McGowin's vacuum-formed pieces which he was ending and moving towards a more personal art (tableau), Bill Christenberry's neon works, which led him to deal more directly with his roots, and the work of Bob Stackhouse and "Tom Green.

During spring and summer 2007, arts institutions in Washington, D.C. staged a citywide celebration of "color field painting, including exhibitions at galleries and museums of works by members of the Washington Color School.[6] In 2011, a group of Washington art collectors began the Washington Color School Project, to gather and publish information about the history of the color painters and abstract art in Washington.[7] The Washington Color School wasn't a physical building itself but a movement starting in Washington DC, built of six core abstract expressionist artists during the 1950s–1970s. They emerged during a time where society, the arts and people were changing quickly. The inner circle of this new visual art movement consisted of six artists who later became known as the Washington color-field artists a.k.a. the Washington Color School, Kenneth Noland, Morris Louis, Gene Davis, Howard Mehring, Tom Downing, and Paul Reed. Though some of them were not born in Washington, they exhibited together representing Washington as a new hub for the visual arts.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Cohen, Jean Lawlor (2015-06-26). "When the Washington Color School earned its stripes on the national stage". Washington Post. "ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 2018-03-30. 
  2. ^ "The Most Typical Abstract Art Techniques". IdeelArt. Archived from the original on March 30, 2018. Retrieved March 30, 2018. 
  3. ^ [1], retrieved June 4, 2009
  4. ^ [2], NY Times Obituary, retrieved June 4, 2009
  5. ^ [3], retrieved May 21, 2014
  6. ^ [4], retrieved on May 21, 2014
  7. ^ "Washington Color School Project". Retrieved January 24, 2016. 


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