Kenneth Noland, along with Morris Louis, transmitted the energy, excitement, and inventiveness of the New York art scene to artists in Washington, D.C. Born in Asheville, North Carolina in 1924, Noland served in the Army from 1942 to 1945. From 1946 to 1948 he studied at Black Mountain College, North Carolina, working with Ilya Bolotowsky and Josef Albers, well-known artists who were on the faculty there. In 1948 he traveled to Paris, where he had his first one-person show. Returning to America in 1949, Noland moved to Washington, D.C. and worked at the Institute of Contemporary Art (1949–1950); later he taught at The Catholic University of America (1951–1960). Noland frequently returned to Black Mountain College, where in the summer of 1950 he met artist Helen Frankenthaler and Clement Greenberg, the noted critic, who became a champion of his art. Through them he became aware of Abstract Expressionism. This encounter was critical in the development of Noland’s artistic style; as he began experimenting with Frankenthaler’s pouring and staining techniques, which became the impetus for his own color field paintings, abstract canvases saturated with pure color.
From 1952 to 1956, Noland taught night classes at the Washington Workshop Center for the Arts, where he met the group of artists known as the Washington Color School Painters, among them, Morris Louis. Noland and Louis became the leading figures of among the color field painters. In 1954 Greenberg, a strong advocate for Noland’s paintings, included Noland in the exhibition, “Emerging Talent” at the Samuel M. Kootz Gallery in New York. Another leading New York gallery, the Tibor de Nagy Gallery, presented Noland’s first one-person show in 1957. In the fall of 1961 Noland moved to New York, and a few years later relocated to South Shaftesbury, Vermont to teach at Bennington College. He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1977, has served on the Board of Trustees at Bennington College since 1985, and was appointed the Milton Avery Professor of Arts at Bard College in 1986, a post he held until his retirement from teaching in 1997.