Thursday, 2 February 2012

Who's Afraid of...

'Who's Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue? no.2'/ 1967

Apocryphal story: one of the reasons behind Barnett Newman's naming of his 'Who's Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue?' series begun in 1966 was that he wanted to connect it to Jasper Johns' use of the primary colours and stencilling of the words onto his paintings around the same time (we might assume that it was also partly in homage, but equally to do with the challenge being laid down by the brash new painter-in-town.)

This is further embellished by the idea that the series was to initially have been entitled by Newman: 'Who's Afraid of Jasper Johns?', but Johns declined the invitation. All of this aside, Newman mainly talks in interviews about his title's connection to Neo-Plasticism.

There is much more besides I think...a very obvious connection is to the title of Edward Albee's play (1962), and Mike Nichols' film (1966) 'Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?' The play premiered in New York, gaining equal notoriety once on screen, and Newman plays on its title because of this. Albee has said that he had used an actual remark (where he had overheard someone making a gag about Virginia Woolf and 'The Big Bad Wolf' song) and transposed this into the title and plot of his play.

The original song had become something of a popular hit by way of the Disney film 'The Three Little Pigs' in 1933, and was sung during the Great  Depression as a way of lifting spirits. Newman's own father had also nearly lost his thriving sewing-machine and tailoring business at this time (another visual link could be made here to Newman's experience of  'zipped' lines of thread.) Newman himself saved the business and built it back up again- this was the reason he did not get round to taking up painting full-time until quite late in life. Newman must have remembered the song vividly because of this.

Cap it all with this, it's a real flight of fancy but a great game to play when watching 'Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?' on screen: it's called 'Spot Newman's Zips' (one quite startling one, towards the end of the movie, where Elizabeth Taylor's Martha opens the back porch door to reveal a pure Newman painting.)

All of above from 'Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?'/ Mike Nichols/ 1966

(And Click on Post Title for link to 'Who's Afraid of Jasper Johns?' at Tony Shafrazi in 2008.)