Barnett Newman, 1951-52, Adam and, 1950, Eve
From the Tate - Adam:
From the mid-1940s Newman had been preoccupied with the Jewish myths of Creation. The vertical strips in his paintings may relate to certain traditions that present God and man as a single beam of light. The name Adam, which in the Old Testament was given to the first man, derives from the Hebrew word adamah (earth), but is also close to adom, (red) and dam (blood). The relationship between brown and red in this painting may therefore symbolise man’s intimacy with the earth.
The vast expanse of unmodulated red paint in this work is both absorbing and disorienting. It is interrupted by a single, narrow band of purple running the length of the right-hand edge. This ‘zip’ generates a tension throughout the canvas between presence and blankness, solidity and fragility. Its verticality also echoes the position of the viewer, helping to fulfil Newman’s concern that ‘the onlooker in front of my painting knows that he’s there’.