Throughout the 1940s he worked in a surrealist vein before developing his mature style. This is characterised by areas of color separated by thin vertical lines, or “zips” as Newman called them. In the first works featuring zips, the color fields are variegated, but later the colors are pure and flat. Newman himself thought that he reached his fully mature style with the Onement series (from 1948). The zips define the spatial structure of the painting, while simultaneously dividing and uniting the composition.
The zip remained a constant feature of Newman’s work throughout his life. In some paintings of the 1950s, such as The Wild, which is eight feet tall by one and a half inches wide (2.4 meters by 2 centimeters), the zip is all there is to the work. Newman also made a few sculptures which are essentially three-dimensional zips.
Although Newman’s paintings appear to be purely abstract, and many of them were originally untitled, the names he later gave them hinted at specific subjects being addressed, often with a Jewish theme. Two paintings from the early 1950s, for example, are calledAdam and Eve (see Adam and Eve), and there is also Uriel (1954) and Abraham (1949), a very dark painting, which as well as being the name of a biblical patriarch, was also the name of Newman’s father, who had died in 1947.
- Jerry: “Hello, Newman.”
- Newman: “Hello, Jerry.”