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Artist: Humphrey, Ralph 1 of 1

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(Green Abstraction) Victoria, 1959

Ralph Humphrey

American, 1933-1990
Oil on canvas
55-1/2 x 56-1/4 in. (141.0 x 142.9 cm)
Norton Simon Museum, Museum Purchase

Not on view

Green Abstraction, belongs to an important series of paintings that occupied Ralph Humphrey for several years beginning with his first show at the Tibor de Nagy Gallery, New York, in 1959. The artist called them “monochromatics” because each painting concentrated on one color: red, blue or, in this case, green. City walks through Manhattan, and building names in particular, inspired the titles.

Surface effects were fundamental to Humphrey’s picture-making, and here, with a brush and sponge, he builds up a thick stratum of viscous, close-
valued hues. The stucco-like physicality of the canvas surface seems to push forward and suggests a volumetric dimension which is tightly controlled
by the homogeneity of the color field and the avoidance of shape, drawing and figure-ground relationships. Humphrey recognized that the perceptual effect of his paintings depended on distance. Standing back, one sees a flat monochromatic field, but on approach the viewer apprehends the color inflections and the “duration” of his technique—the labor and time of application. Like Mark Rothko, whom he deeply admired, Humphrey
recognized color as a sensual agent and as a barometer for emotion. “Green Abstraction” anticipates Humphrey’s frame paintings of the mid-’60s—reductive, monochrome fields of pale gray edged with muted tones of blue or orange—that brought him acclaim and inclusion in the seminal
exhibit “Systemic Painting” at the Guggenheim Museum in 1966, which showcased new currents in American painting, including Minimalism.

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Artist: Humphrey, Ralph 1 of 1