NEWMAN, BARNETT (1905–1970), U.S. painter. Newman was born in New York, to immigrant parents who were interested in music, literature, and art. He began to make drawings as soon as he could hold a pencil. At high school he was introduced to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, after which he regularly studied American painting. Deciding to become a professional artist, Newman persuaded his parents to allow him to enroll in the Art Students League, where he spent considerable time learning to draw from casts. He also studied at the City College of New York. At the Art Students League, he met Adolph *Gottlieb, two years his senior, who became one of his closest friends. When Newman graduated in 1927, his father insisted on his joining the family clothing business, which he virtually took over after the 1929 crash. From 1931 to 1939 Newman worked as a substitute art teacher in high schools.
Although he drew and painted throughout this period, it was not until the late 1940s that he emerged as a major artist, alongside a brilliant group of young Americans, including Pollock, de Kooning, Gorky, *Rothko, Gottlieb, and David Smith, now identified as the Abstract-Expressionists. They reacted to the Ecole de Paris in a moralistic, puritanical manner, against art as luxury. Newman in particular, well-educated and articulate, was the intellectual codifier of the movement. His work became abstract and symbolic, with some influence from Surrealism. Gradually he moved toward a single band or stripe, which allied to titles like "Adam," "The Beginning," "The Word," "The Command" indicates their Jewish mystical origin. He held his first one-man exhibition in January/February 1950, at Betty Parsons Gallery, New York; this and similar early displays of his work met with public hostility. Ten years later, Newman and his fellow Abstract-Expressionists were recognized as the first indigenous modern American school of painting. He once wrote: "Instead of working with the remnants of space, I work with the whole space." It is this concept of "wholeness" which has been exploited by the younger generation of American painters.
[Charles Samuel Spencer]
Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.