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PRINT September 1978

Death and Maternal Love: Psychological Speculations on Robert Motherwell’s Art

THE LITERATURE ON ROBERT MOTHERWELL treats his art in almost exclusively intellectual and formal terms. The temptation to do so is great not only because of this artist’s exceptional education and his verbal articulateness, but also because he explores the primary visual ideas in his paintings with the perseverance of a philosopher testing a hypothesis. An individual motif may reappear over and over in one painting after another, each time presented with some alteration in context. The investigation of a single shape or organizational principle often persists in this way indefinitely, and it is the presence of such recurrent motifs that unites a given group of paintings into one of Motherwell’s “series.” For example, one immediately recognizes a work from the “Open” series by the three sided-box or window motif coming down from the top of the picture, even though the “Open” paintings vary

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