Robert Motherwell (January 24, 1915 – July 16, 1991) was an American abstract expressionist painter and printmaker. He was one of the youngest of the New York School (a phrase he coined), which also included Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Willem de Kooning, and Phillip Guston.
Motherwell was born in Aberdeen, Washington. He received his Bachelor of Arts degree in philosophy from Stanford University in 1937 before completing one year of a philosophy Ph.D. at Harvard before shifting fields to art and art history, studying under Meyer Schapiro at Columbia University. His rigorous background in rhetoric would serve him and the abstract expressionists well, as he was able to tour the country giving speeches that articulated to the public what it was that he and his friends were doing in New York. Without his tireless devotion to communication (in addition to his prolific painting), well-known abstract expressionists like Rothko, who was extremely shy and rarely left his studio, might not have made it into the public eye. Motherwell's collected writings are a truly exceptional window into the abstract expressionist world. He was a lucid and engaging writer, and his essays are considered a bridge for those who want to learn more about non-representational art but who are put off by dense art criticism.
Motherwell spent significant time in Provincetown, Massachusetts. Cy Twombly studied under him.
Motherwell's greatest goal was to use the staging of his work to convey to the viewer the mental and physical engagement of the artist with the canvas. He preferred using the starkness of black paint as one of the basic elements of his paintings. One of his more well-known techniques involved diluting his paint with turpentine to create a shadow effect. His long-running series of paintings "Elegies for the Spanish Republic" is generally considered his most significant project.
Motherwell was a member of the editorial board of the surrealist magazine VVV and a contributor of Wolfgang Paalens journal Dyn, which was adited 1942-44 in six numbers. He also edited Paalens collected essays Form and Sense in 1945 as the first Number of Problems of Contemporary Art.
The Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth houses the largest collection of Motherwell's works. The Walker Art Center also has a nearly-complete collection of his prints. The Empire State Plaza holds some of his work.
He was married to artist Helen Frankenthaler.