Barnett Newman

Barnett Newman: Notes, 1968
Portfolio of 17 etchings and aquatints
Gift of Annalee Newman

The prints are not the core of Newman’s oeuvre. It was in 1961 when Newman, almost by chance, discovered the artistic tool of lithography. The first three plates date from that year. They were followed by the portfolio Cantos, completed in 1964. In 1968 he applied a new technique, etching and aquatint, in the portfolio Notes. These were followed by single etchings in 1969.

The Notes were stepping stones to the mastery of a new technique. In the first seven works, Newman experimented with an upended rectangular format divided into three verticals, only having a grid of orthogonally and diagonally hatched lines, rows of commas or a field dotted with small circles and spirals randomly executed by hand, so freely, in fact, that the diagonal direction visibly changes in the process of cross-hatching, or the lines swerve creating the impression of grass or hair. The reserved fields of white are equally important. It is exciting to see how Newman proceeded to divide the whole into fields and draw his vertical lines, first with the aid of a ruler and then increasingly freehand.

Unlike the tripartite, upended, rectangular composition of Notes I—VII (installed on the interior courtyard wall), the later Notes (installed on the exterior wall) go back to Newman’s paintings Stations of the Cross, 1958, and Shining Forth (To George), 1961, in which cases Newman used only black on unprepared canvas., Notes I—VII were an attempt to portray the equivalent of color in a graphic medium; in the later Notes, the artist referred to models whose form, as in etching, was defined by black alone. These later Notes also exist in several states, as steps towards his very last Untitled Etchings. The horizontal format of Note VIII prefigures Etching #1, the others Etching #2. There, he begun to apply aquatint to increase the depth of the black area, and proceeded to rework the entire surface with aquatint which made the original band, now black on black, almost indiscernible.

From a 1986 lecture by Franz Meyer