Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Analysis of Onement 1

Barnett Newman, Onement 1, 1948, Oil on Canvas.

This painting helped influence Pollock's Bluepoles as well as being a watershed moment in the career of Barnett Newman establishing him as one of the foremost in Colorfield painting. It became an expression for Newman's own personal philosophy. The composition is flat and atmospheric but not gestural except for the zip, the line straight down the middle of the canvas. The symmetry of the central zip stands for perfection of man's oneness with all of God.

Newman was a Jewish intellectual and even designed a synogogue. The word Onement is used because it is a component of atonement which is marked by the holiday Yom Kippur, the most important Jewish holiday, when Jews plea to god for forgiveness for their sins. Jewish philosphers regard this holiday as a day to ponder the mystery of God's creation. Inspired by the sublime, Newman paints the fullness of God's creation through the use of a solid color field. Looking first to cubism for inspiration Newman finds it to be a stylized representation of reality and since he wanted to depict the sublime, he had to pioneer a new style of painting.
Onement symbolizes Genesis. Newman paints and act of creation or separation. The zip down the middle symbolizes the separation of light and darkness. The background is the color of the Earth, of which God used to create Adam. The zip also becomes a highly abstracted vertical humanoid figure, reminiscent of Giacometti's figures, despite being heavily modeled are fragile, suggesting the fleeting nature of existence. Giacometti's sculptures were being displayed in New York for the first time in 1948 and influenced the zip in Newman's work. Rusticated edges of the zip give it a sensual human characteristic and separates chaos. The zip also goes back to the idea of the primitive; the first act of human kind was screaming into the void.
Onement is the genetic moment of which adam and eve become one. Adam only becomes complete when he is joined with Eve. Onement is highly influenced by Talmudic and Kabbalistic thought and he painted seven "onement" paintings over half a decade.


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