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Robert Motherwell is an abstract expressionist artist and a painter. His paintings, collages, as well as prints feature simple, bold color, shape contrasts, as well as a balance of bold and restrained gestural brushstrokes. Motherwell’s artwork reflects a dialogue between art and prints, as well as contemporary art with autobiographical content and events that are significant in human conditions, such as oppression, life, and death among others. This paper will analyze Palo Alto by Robert Motherwell (1973 -1976), lithography on paper (36-1/16*24-1/16 inches).

Palo Alto by Robert Motherwell (1973 -1976) is a print on paper 2-D works that has a black and a red background. Palo Alto is located in the center on the frame, and painted in red color. The lower part of the print appears to be bold horizontal lines, forming a base for vertical lines. The rest of the image is covered with red background. Moreover, the vertical and horizontal lines seem to be in a harmony. The three bold vertical lines, joining the two horizontal lines almost perpendicularly form different shapes that look distorted, but are yet recognizable. What Robert Motherwell meant with this image is to represent something that is not well known. An alternative interpretation is that the three vertical lines have a support on the two horizontal lines, forming a firm structure at a particular point. The harmony of the concept and shape is clear in Robert’s approach in this piece of work. There seems to be a vertical line with a variation of darkness that is holding strong against the stripes that are uneven in size with red paper.

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The subject matter of the art work is a commemoration of the loss of blood and suffering of humans, as well as an abstract symbol for life and death cycle inexorably. Roberts’s allusion to mortality of human through visual language demonstrates his admiration for French, an appreciation he had in common with many painters who were abstract expressionists. The message of the artwork may read an open-ended reference to the heroics of stoic struggle or experience the loss indirectly. This is because the nature of life in the artwork is expressed through the juxtaposition of black besides red that reverberates in the contrast of the vertical and horizontal lines. 

The artist in Palo Alto work has used a metaphor, where he said “after a period of painting in them, I discovered black as one of my subjects and with the black the contrasting red a sense of life and death which to me is quite Spanish. They are essentially the Spanish death contrasted with the dazzle of a Matisse like sunlight”; this and other messages from Robert were indications of forms that preceded the iconography.

Motherwell illustrates his work through style and abstract expression movement. Precisely, style is a significant antecedent of surrealism, since its emphasis is made on automatic, spontaneous, as well as a subconscious creation. The dripping of black color on a paper laid on a red floor is a method that has its roots in other painter’s works, such as Max Earnest. Motherwell initiated the abstract expressionism, especially his white writing, though not in a large scale, anticipating the drip paintings. Abstract expressionism movement has several similarities, especially the careful planning due to its large size. While this style gained acceptance in the 1950s, the realism had started way before 1930s. The great depression and muralists had a significant influence on the formation of the style. However, abstract depression appeared during World War II and was showcased in galleries of New York. The abstract painting has various characteristics, such as the usage of large-scale canvases, and the so-called “all over” method, which presupposes the treatment of the whole canvas with equal importance. Such an approach is different from the one where the center is more outlined than the edges. This abstract expressionist style has stayed popular for many years, constantly expanding its philosophical implications. 

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Motherwell’s bibliography that assists in understanding Palo Alto is his involvement in the civil war that broke out in 1936. However, the autocracies made an indelible impression and he later devoted many paintings to them.  The tragic proportions of the battle that killed many people in combat and accessioned to the bombings of many civilians made him respond. From the retrospective view of Motherwell, the war became a metaphor for all of the injustice that took place. Therefore, he conceived Palo Alto as a commemoration of bloodshed, as well as an abstract, symbols of poetic for life and death, inexorably.

In conclusion, Palo Alto is an artwork that has a style of an abstract expression, just like many of his other works that commemorate the loss of life and sufferings of human beings. Moreover, the message of the artwork read an open-ended reference to stoic resistance due to the nature of life in the artwork that is expressed through the juxtaposition of black beside red that reverberates in the contrast of the bold horizontal and vertical lines. All of his artwork is an inspiration for the social injustices that took place during the World War II.

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