During the mid-1950s the most pressing concern for vanguard artists in America was the formation of an alternative to an abstract expressionism that dominated the aesthetic horizon but at the same time seemed exhausted of further creative options. The brilliantly coloristic painting that emerged at the end of the decade in Washington and New York was at once a direct descendant of the many-faceted abstract expressionist phenomenon as well as a striking contradiction of its pictorial and expressive procedures.
The primary structural concern in abstract expressionist painting was the shaping of three-dimensional space through the opposition of figure to ground or the overlapping and interpenetration of line and plane. Heavy layers of pigment applied with thick brush strokes projected the dimensionality of structure as well as the labor and passion exerted in its realization. Color, the least favored element in the abstract expressionist formal vocabulary, was tied to the definition of form, a function evident in a preference for elementary color harmonies or simply black and white and no avoidance of subtle or “soft” relationships, subversive of clear and structural definition. In addition, color’s sensual properties were seen as inimical to an emotional stance of fervid, austere monumentality.
Dr. Stephen S. Prokopoff, Curator and ICA Director, 1970