Though Robert Motherwell was born in Aberdeen, Washington, he spent his early years in California. He attended the California School of Fine Arts, studied philosophy at Stanford and Harvard, and later focused on art history under the tutelage of Meyer Schapiro at Columbia University. It was in fact through Schapiro that Motherwell met Roberto Matta, the Surrealist artist, who inspired him to create art – not just study it.
He began to explore the unconscious in his paintings and produced art that relied on instinct rather than intellect. Those experiments laid the foundation for his abstract works, which had a tremendous impact on the birth of Abstract Expressionism in the early 1940’s.
He was among the founding artists of the New York School, and though he was the youngest member, he coined the term that has been used to describe them ever since. Being a part of the group afforded him the opportunity to work with artists such as Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning. He began exhibiting his work in New York in the mid 1940’s and soon became a spokesman for avant-garde art. He was one of the few artists in the school that worked with printmaking as well as painting, which led to his highly important achievements in the graphic arts.
Through the years, Motherwell has been featured in numerous exhibitions, from solo shows at the Royal Academy, London and the National Gallery of Art, Washington, to a retrospective of his works organized by the Albright-Knox Art Gallery that traveled in the United States from 1983 to 1985. His work is included in the permanent collections of many major museums worldwide, as well as prestigious private an corporate collections.