Barnett Newman – the artist behind minimalism

Canto-VIII-1963-64. Barnett Newman

Barnett Newman is an influential expressionist of the 20th century, whose biography is closely connected with the culture of symbolism and mysticism. The work of the genius Barnett Newman laid the foundation for modern minimalism. The master’s paintings reflect the harmony and integrity of life through the pointless world of color lines.


Barnett Newman – the son of Jewish immigrants of Polish origin – was born on January 29, 1905 in New York. Having become acquainted with the teachings of ancient and modern philosophers at the City College, the young man worked as a teacher, publicist. He studied painting at the Art Students League of New York.

Barnett Newman at the beginning of his creative career portrayed free associations, executed in the style of automatic writing. In 44-45 years of the last century, the painter performed a series of calligraphic-surrealistic drawings. And three years later, together with leading abstract expressionists Mark Rothko, William Baziotes and Robert Motherwell, he founded the Subjects of the Artist School. Later, the school was transformed into an abstractionist club.

Dionysius-1949. Barnett Newman

In the postwar years, Barnett Newman became interested in myths and the logic of the unconscious.

The artist believed that the modern world, darkened by conflict, fear and tragedy, made traditional art movements invalid. He created the zip symbol that attracted the viewer, ignited by the spark of life. The vertical line determined the spatial structure of the picture, at the same time dividing and uniting the plot. Newman believed that humans have a primitive desire for self-expression, and in ancient art you can find expression of the same ideas as in modern art. He saw in the artists and in himself the creators of the world.

Barnett Newman’s first solo exhibition took place in 1950 and was heavily criticized. Then the painter spent eight years improving his skills. The result of his activity was a retrospective of his works in 1958. The works on display were large in size and represented a monochrome background with casual contrasting stripes of varying thickness. Using these elements, the artist created scenes that, according to his plan, represented the mysteries of all religious movements existing on earth. Newman got rid of his early work. For the remaining period of his life, he painted 120 paintings and received public recognition after 60 years.

First-Station-1958. Barnett Newman

At the end of his life, Newman performed a cycle of lithographs “18 Songs”, which, according to the author, evokes memories of music. The artist passed away on July 4, 1970. Nine years later, the artist’s widow founded the Barnett Newman Foundation.

The most famous paintings by Barnett Newman

The artist’s works have left an unforgettable mark on the history of avant-garde expressionism. The most famous paintings by Barnett Newman include the following:

  1. Onement I (1948) is a breakthrough work, according to the author. This plot played a central role in other works of the genius. Carelessly painted over lightning on a uniform color field does not divide the space, but connects both sides, emotionally attracting the audience.
  2. Vir heroicus sublimis (1950-1951) is a large-scale image of a perfectly drawn square in the center and asymmetric zones around the perimeter. Panorama scale and color saturation form a new kind of connection between the artwork and the viewer.
  3. Тhe Wild (1950) – the image of wild nature is unique due to its unusual size. At eight feet high and an inch and a half wide, the picture focuses on the lightning. The work demonstrated Newman’s confidence that nature can be seen as an endless vertical.
  4. Broken Obelisk (1963-1969) – a sculptural composition of steel, a broken obelisk, the most monumental monument. The two parts of the sculpture are joined in an area of ​​only two and a quarter inches. An internal steel bar stabilizes the massive object.
Barnett Newman. Onement VI (1953), Private collection
Onement VI (1953), Private collection
Testament (1949). Barnett Newman
Testament (1949)
Vir Heroicus-Sublimis (1950)
Vir Heroicus-Sublimis (1950)