In August 1950 Barnett Newman moved to a studio that afforded him the space to
make his first eight-by-eighteen-foot painting. At this time many New York
artists, such as Jackson Pollock, also had begun to make extremely large
canvases. The size of these works served several purposes, one of which was to
declare the artists' ambition. Another was to create art too large to fit in
people's homes, thus preventing the works being used for merely decorative
purposes. According to the critic Clement Greenberg, once a painting no longer
gave the illusion of depth, it had no choice but to expand laterally. When
Vir Heroicus Sublimis (Latin for "man, heroic and sublime")
made its debut in Newman's second show at the Betty Parsons Gallery, Newman
posted this statement: "There is a tendency to look at large paintings from
a distance. The large pictures in this exhibition are intended to be seen from a
short distance." In other words, their powerful impact was not to be tamed.
Yet Newman always said that what counted was scale, not size, and he wanted to
see if it was possible to create a large-scale canvas that was not a large size.
He achieved this aim with paintings such as The Wild, which presents the
zip itself as a painting. That same year, Newman also made his first
foray into presenting his zips as three-dimensional forms sculpted in plaster
(shown here in a later bronze cast).