When Barnett Newman staged his second exhibition at the Betty Parsons Gallery,
New York, in 1951, it was a critical and financial disaster that garnered
scathing reviews and no sales. He spent the next four years painting in
isolation, showing and selling nothing at all. It was exactly at this time
that Newman's friends and fellow artists Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, and
Willem de Kooning rose to fame. If not for the financial and moral support of
his wife Annalee, a schoolteacher, Newman could not have continued to paint.
Nonetheless, the artist made some of his most astonishingly beautiful works
during this difficult period. He further explored the large-scale format,
creating, for example, several eleven-foot-tall paintings. He also experimented
with the zip, sending it to the four edges of the canvas. In all of his work
from these years, complex brushwork and layers of color play an important role
in creating the physical and emotional texture of the canvases. The artist
Frank Stella recalls that when he first saw the painting Ulysses on
display in New York in 1959, he felt compelled to try "to keep its pushy
blueness from toppling the Empire State Building."