Motherwell, Robert (1915–1991) By Gilbert, Gregory
Robert Motherwell was one of the central founding members of the Abstract Expressionist movement in the United States during the 1940s and 1950s and served as its major theoretical spokesman throughout his career. The youngest figure in the New York School (a synonymous term he coined for Abstract Expressionism), Motherwell was one of the few who received a formal university education, which is reflected in his extensive series of published critical writings and his prolific activities as a book editor, lecturer and art teacher. Trained in philosophy and art history, Motherwell’s diverse intellectual interests also included modernist literature, psychoanalytic theory and radical politics, which deeply informed the symbolic content of his art. Motherwell is notable for aligning the artistic traditions of School of Paris modernism with the progressive formal and thematic concerns associated with the post-war American avant-garde. In contrast to other Abstract Expressionists like Jackson Pollock or Mark Rothko, who forged signature painting styles, Motherwell actively experimented with a variety of abstract modes and media, but is most renowned for his innovative production of collages and celebrated series of paintings the ‘‘Elegies to the Spanish Republic’’.