Color Field painting is an abstract style that emerged in the 1950s after Abstract Expressionism and is largely characterized by abstract canvases painted primarily with large areas of solid color. An alternate but less frequently encountered term for this style is chromatic abstraction.
Color Field painting is related to Post-painterly abstraction, Suprematism, Abstract Expressionism, Hard-edge painting and Lyrical Abstraction. It initially referred to a particular type of abstract expressionism, especially the work of Mark Rothko, Clyfford Still, Barnett Newman, Robert Motherwell, Adolph Gottlieb and several series of paintings by Joan Miró. Art critic Clement Greenberg perceived Color Field painting as related to but different from Action painting. During the early to mid-1960s Color Field painting was the term used to describe artists like Jules Olitski, Kenneth Noland, and Helen Frankenthaler, whose works were related to second generation abstract expressionism, and to younger artists like Larry Poons, Larry Zox, and Frank Stella, - all moving in a new direction. In 1964 Clement Greenberg curated an influential exhibition that traveled the country called Post-painterly abstraction. The exhibition expanded the definition of color field painting. In the late 1960s Richard Diebenkorn began his Ocean Park series; created during the final 25 years of his career and that are important examples of color field painting. Color Field painting clearly pointed toward a new direction in American painting, away from abstract expressionism.
Color Field painting sought to rid art of superfluous rhetoric. Artists like Clyfford Still, Mark Rothko, Hans Hofmann, Morris Louis, Jules Olitski, Kenneth Noland, Helen Frankenthaler, Larry Zox, and others often used greatly reduced references to nature, and they painted with a highly articulated and psychological use of color. In general these artists eliminated recognizable imagery. Certain artists quoted references to past or present art, but in general color field painting presents abstraction as an end in itself. In pursuing this direction of modern art, artists wanted to present each painting as one unified, cohesive, monolithic image.
In distinction to the emotional energy and gestural surface marks of Abstract Expressionists such as Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning, Color Field painting initially appeared to be cool and austere, effacing the individual mark in favor of large, flat areas of color, which these artists considered to be the essential nature of visual abstraction, along with the actual shape of the canvas, which Frank Stella in particular achieved in unusual ways with combinations of curved and straight edges. However Color Field painting has proven to be both sensual and deeply expressive albeit in a different way from gestural Abstract expressionism.