Magic Number

Jules Olitski


Dewey Library (Building E53) main stairwell

Jules Olitski’s early works were characterized by densely encrusted surfaces built up from rough smears and round blotches of paint. Seeking a more original result, Olitski moved to the technique of acrylic paint stained into unsized canvas and began to employ more opulent hues and more precisely defined shapes. His feeling for the primacy of color over shape led him by 1965 to abandon drawing and composition altogether.

By using slight variations in value and contrasting hues and by spraying different colors on top of one another he inflected the surfaces and achieved subtle atmospheric effects. In this way, he dissolved the surface of his canvas into an ambiguous mist. The structure of such paintings is not the result of drawing, painted articulations, or shapes but reverts to the edge of the canvas, to the actual shape of the picture. In works like Magic Number impasto bands of paint at the edges and corners reiterate the structure of the canvas itself. They act too as a frame for the amorphous dissolving space of the sprayed center, in contrast to which they establish the flat literal existence of the canvas.

Read more about Jules Olitski






Acrylic on canvas


82 in. x 186 in. (208.28 cm x 472.44 cm)