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Robert Motherwell

Mexican Past


Robert Motherwell was a painter, printmaker, editor, and scholar. During his studies in philosophy at Stanford, Motherwell was influenced by symbolist literature, including James Joyce and Edgar Allen Poe. His father, unsupportive of Robert’s career as an artist, urged him to pursue his PhD at Harvard. Only after finishing his Harvard degree, and then matriculating to Columbia, was he finally convinced to devote himself to his painting.

During the time he spent in Mexico, Motherwell’s influence by the Parisian Surrealists (Max Duchamp, Masson) prompted some of his most important work in Mexican Past. Like other surrealists, Motherwell utilized an artistic process called Automatic Drawing, or scribbling from the unconscious mind, to find a jumping-off point.

While in Mexico, Motherwell began painting with a new concept: distinctive silhouettes and unseen shapes and figures. An experiment in stepping away from traditional perspective in favor of evanescent shapes. Robert championed this theory of automatic drawing, coined Automatism, and inspired other artists to take it on as a concept—creating a new movement in American art.

Luks was a master of color in oil as well as life. He was a robust man, fond of his drink. One can imagine his dynamism, as he told an interviewer, “… the whole secret! Color is simply light and shade. You don’t need pink or grey or blue so long as you have volume. Pink and blue change with light or time. Volume endures.”

Having spent his youth in Vaudeville, Luks championed the underdog and enjoyed keeping company with those down on their luck. “He is Puck, He is Caliban. He is Fallstaff,” wrote contemporary art critic James Gibbons Huneker of Luks. Then, tragically, Luks body was found in a doorway by a policeman one night in the fall of 1933. Luks died, with the same intensity he lived his life, after a bar-room brawl.




Robert Motherwell
(1915 –1991)


Mexican Past




72 x 144 acrylic on canvas