Skip to content


HOWARD MEHRING - Radiant - Exhibitions - CONNERSMITH.

Howard Mehring - #13 (Yellow/Orange Cruciform), 1962, magna and graphite on canvas, 55 x 48 inches.

CONNERSMITH is pleased to present Howard Mehring: Radiant. This exhibition reveals an important line of Mehring’s artistic inquiry in a series of geometric paintings from 1961 and 1962.

As established in past exhibitions, Mehring led Washington Color painters with innovations in Lyrical Abstraction, Allover composition, and Broken-Color edge construction.[i] Yet, until now, some of his most inventive works have not received comprehensive consideration. Within the brief span of two years, Mehring initiated methods of geometric organization, which culminate in his square-within-square compositions and demonstrate the emergence of his final Hard-Edge style. It is our premise that these successive breakthroughs represent a significant, though previously overlooked, stage of the artist’s stylistic evolution.

This series encompasses breathtaking variations in geometric configuration, ranging from grids of squares to cruciform, butterfly-shaped, and quatrefoil compositions. “The geometric image,” Mehring asserted, is as basic to color painting as “the rhythmic repetition of an element, color, space and openness, symmetry.” He elaborated, “I start with a certain symmetrical image, and then let the picture paint itself out in a balance between intellect and intuition.” The artist reflected, “I think there is a search for balance in the new painting today. It is a classical period. We start with a preconceived idea and then carry it through intuitive means.”[i]





HOWARD MEHRING - Radiant - Exhibitions - CONNERSMITH.

Howard Mehring - Radiant, 1961, magna on canvas, 31 x 30.25 inches.

Inspired, intuitive and bold, these paintings manifest Mehring’s precepts of rhythmic repetition, color, space, openness, and symmetry. Rhythmic repetitions of form pulse through each work. Squares and Rectangles emerge from cruciform structures in “Radiant”, 1961,[i] “#13 (Yellow/Orange Cruciform)”, 1962, “Untitled (Blue/Pink Cruciform)”, 1961, “#7 (Blue/Red/Yellow Cruciform)”, 1962 and “#27 (Black/Gray Cruciform)”, 1962; and emanate from the central axis in a butterfly shaped pattern in “Untitled (Green/Blue/Yellow Ambit)”, 1961. Squares and rectangles form grids in “#20 (Pink/Blue Grid)”, 1961 and “#12(Yellow/Red/ Brown Grid)”, 1962, where squares overlap smaller light-blue and purple squares. Four large overlapping circles produce a striking multi-colored quatrefoil form in “Untitled (Quatrefoil)”, 1962. Though Mehring worked within frameworks of centered geometric imagery, which were balanced and often symmetrical, his works do not appear static. He engendered a sense of movement and energy through the kinetic quality of his color sequences and with his novel construction of edges.



HOWARD MEHRING - Radiant - Exhibitions - CONNERSMITH.

Howard Mehring - Untitled (Quatrefoil), 1962, magna and graphite on canvas, 44.25 x 43.75 inches. 

Equally notable to the creativity of Mehring’s geometric compositions is the diversity of his methods of pigment application. He created the elegant composition of “#27 (Black/Gray Cruciform)”, 1962 by staining overlapping bands of pigment into raw canvas. Other works display stippling reminiscent of his earlier Allover paintings. But, instead of painting diffuse, edge-to-edge imagery, he stippled areas of canvas to form squares, rectangles, and bands of color within the frame, as in “Radiant”, c.1961 and “#20 (Pink/Blue Grid)”, 1961. These works presage the broken color assemblages of his cut square-within-square paintings of 1962.[i] In “Untitled”, 1961 (Blue/Pink Cruciform) he combined areas of stippling with passages of flat pigment application. In Untitled (Green/Blue/Yellow Ambit)”, 1961, “#12(Yellow/Red/ Brown Grid)”, 1962, “#27 (Black/Gray Cruciform)”, 1962, “#13 (Yellow/Orange Cruciform)”, 1962, and “#7 (Blue/Red/Yellow Cruciform)”, 1962 he applied pigment in a flat, continuous strokes to create geometric shapes and bands of color. [ii]  These works significantly herald the Hard-Edge style that Mehring would employ exclusively from 1964 forward. The full expression of Mehring’s latest style is revealed in “Untitled (Quatrefoil)”, 1962, which, to our knowledge, is the earliest example of the Hard-Edge painting technique that epitomized the final stage of his stylistic development.[iii]



HOWARD MEHRING - Radiant - Exhibitions - CONNERSMITH.

Howard Mehring - #27 (Black/Gray Cruciform), 1962, magna on canvas, 48 x 48 inches.

Another exciting discovery in this body of work is Mehring’s extensive and methodical use of unpainted canvas to form discrete shapes which were defined by adjacent areas of pigment and by edges of the frame. Except for “Untitled (Quatrefoil)”, 1962, each composition balances color with areas of unpainted canvas. Here we experience the principles of space and openness that were integral to the artist’s geometric compositions. The absence of pigment in areas surrounded by either stippling, or flat, continuous brushwork, in “Radiant,” 1961, “#13 (Yellow/Orange Cruciform),” and “Untitled (Green/Blue/Yellow Ambit)”, 1961 produces slender angular shapes of unpainted canvas which radiate from the center. In “Untitled (Blue/Pink Cruciform),” 1961, similar forms, connected by a cruciform axis, are painted in flat, continuous brushwork with blue pigment. Mehring surrounded these blue shapes with delicately stippled areas, the color intensity of which, was relieved by unpainted canvas in between the dots of pink pigment, imbuing the imagery with a sense of airiness. He achieved a similar effect with red pigment at the corners of “Radiant”, 1961, creating a soft frame for the layered blue squares and pink and green cruciform imagery at the center of the canvas.[i] Throughout the scope of these artistic innovations, Mehring’s sensitivity and confidence are self-evident, perhaps nowhere more so than in “#7 (Blue/Red/Yellow Cruciform)”, 1962, where pencil lines, drawn on strips of unpainted canvas, radiate from the center, accentuating the configuration of colorful concentric squares, while exposing its design and facture.

HOWARD MEHRING - Radiant - Exhibitions - CONNERSMITH.

Howard Mehring -  Untitled ( Green/Blue/Yellow Ambit), 1961, magna and graphite on canvas, 23 x 27 inches.

How do we situate this series of Mehring’s work within the art historical context of Washington Color Painting? Barbara Rose observed, “The relationship of center to frame, of raw canvas to painted canvas, became a crucial formal problem for all the artists working in Washington, and each resolved it in his own way.” She continued, “We see Mehring and [Gene] Davis attacking a formal problem [Morris] Louis was working on at the same time – or conceivably even slightly earlier – than Louis himself: the dilemma of how to separate color from color with reserved areas of raw canvas to achieve greater brilliance.”[i] Whereas Louis, in his unfurled paintings, and Davis, in his stripe paintings, created pictorial intervals by leaving relatively large areas of canvas unpainted, neither artist formed specific geometric shapes with unpainted canvas as did Mehring, who repeated these shapes within his compositions. Although Rose acknowledged Mehring’s pioneering experimentation in this realm, she underestimated the extent of his accomplishments and therefore claimed, “Unfortunately these remain sketches, ideas never developed on a large scale.”[ii]Mary Swift noted instances in which Mehring used areas of bare canvas in three chevron paintings created in 1961. Swift imparted, “Mehring felt that these paintings were seen by Kenneth Noland and gave him the idea for his later chevron paintings. This can be argued but it is true that Mehring did not pursue the form. One interesting point about the Chevron sketches is that they are placed on the canvas using areas of bare canvas as part of the structure. The placing of the chevron on the bare canvas became crucial for the Noland chevrons.” In her discussion of Mehring’s origination of the chevron imagery with bare canvas as a compositional element, Swift inaccurately asserted, “This is one of the few times that Mehring used the bare canvas this way.”[iii] It is possible and, in my opinion, likely, that both Swift and Rose mischaracterized Mehring’s use of unpainted canvas as anomalous, or short-lived, in his practice because they had only seen one or two examples and were unaware of the extent of his work in this vein. It is our hope that the current exhibition will adjust these mischaracterizations and draw art historical attention to a series of paintings that represent a rich period of artistic discovery in Mehring’s oeuvre.

- copyright Jamie L. Smith, Ph.D.


> Complete exhibition images below, scroll, scroll. <

HOWARD MEHRING - Radiant - Exhibitions - CONNERSMITH.

Howard Mehring - Untitled (Pink/Blue Grid), 1961, magna on canvas, 44 x 46 inches.


[i] Mehring, Howard, and Smith, Jamie L., “Howard Mehring: Classical Abstraction, paintings from the Vincent Melzac Collection,” The Catholic University of America, Department of Art – Salve Regina Gallery (Washington, DC: 2002); Howard Mehring: Brilliance, CONNERSMITH, 2020; Howard Mehring: Cutting Edge, CONNERSMITH 2021; Howard Mehring: From the Gestural to the Sublime, CONNERSMITH, 2022.

[ii] The Vincent Melzac Collection: The Washington Color Painters at The Museum of the Palm Beaches, Inc. Norton Gallery and School of Art, Palm Beach, FL (1974), p. 37.

[iii] “Radiant”, 1961 was featured in: Mehring, Howard, and Livingston, Jane. Howard Mehring: A Retrospective Exhibition, the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., December 10, 1977-January 22, 1978. 197, Cat no. 24, color ill. p. 40.

[iv] For examples, see: HOWARD MEHRING: CUTTING EDGE, CONNERSMITH, 2021. Jane Livingston wrote, “The classical type of the broken color paintings employs a basic square-within-square composition; within each of four successively larger concentric areas starting at the center of the canvas, mirror-image variations in hue create the complex, symmetric pattern….these paintings operate in some respects similarly to Frank Stella’s concentrically organized square paintings of 1962; but the presence of painterly handling separates them decisively from Stella’s work or that of any other geometric painter of that time.” Ibid., p. 15.

[v] “A few very different paintings, such as Center Split (cat no. 28), in which the painterly stippling has given way to flat application of highly saturated, primary colors, were executed in 1962. The cruciform evident in Center Split was succeeded by two paintings not illustrated depicting a curvilinear quatrefoil form in a similar manner.”  Ibid., 15.

[vi] The quatrefoil form, as well as the red, blue, yellow and black color combination may have been inspired by Mehring’s first trip to Europe in 1961, after which he commented on the use of color in Italian paintings. “During this period of experimentation, Mehring was awarded a Woodward Foundation Grant which gave him and the painter, Robert Gates, a trip to Europe and expenses for forty days. This was Mehring’s first trip to Europe. …He noted the color in Italian paintings. He loved Europe and was to return as often as he could.” Swift, p. 45.

[vii] “Radiant, 1961 is one of several which start to use geometric shapes based on the square and made up of broken color. These pictures will become the squares on squares.” Ibid., p. 45.  

[viii] The Vincent Melzac Collection: Modernist American Art Featuring New York Abstract Expressionism and Washington Color Painting, The Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC (1971) p. 33.

[ix] Ibid, p. 33.

[x] Swift, p. 44.