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What is color field Denver?

Color Field Denver is an artistic movement that emerged in the late 1950s and early 1960s within abstract expressionism. It is characterized by large fields of color spread across the canvas in washes or blocks, often lacking any identifiable subject matter. The movement originated in New York City with painters like Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman, Clyfford Still, and Helen Frankenthaler. Below we explore the history, characteristics, major artists, and legacy of Color Field painting in Denver.

Color Field painting first developed in New York City in the late 1940s and 1950s, pioneered by artists like Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman, Clyfford Still, and Adolph Gottlieb. These painters moved away from representational art and focused on large expanses of color on huge canvases. The paintings often consisted of two or three colors separated by thin lines or borders.

The style spread to the West Coast in the 1950s, adopted by California painters like Richard Diebenkorn and Sam Francis. By the 1960s, the movement had reached Denver, Colorado. Denver provided a nurturing environment for Color Field painters, far from the avant-garde pressures of New York. Denver painters interpreted the style in their own unique way, focusing on color, space, and light.


Color Field painting has several defining characteristics:

  • Large, simplified fields of color – Rather than focusing on brushstrokes or textures, Color Field painters applied solid areas of color across huge canvases.
  • Non-objective – Most Color Field paintings lack identifiable subjects, landscapes, or figures. The focus is purely on color and form.
  • Edges – Paintings often consist of borders or soft edges between colors, creating tension and energy on the canvas.
  • Staining – Artists like Helen Frankenthaler pioneered the “soak stain” technique, pouring thinned paint directly onto unprimed canvas and letting it soak in.
  • Luminosity – Radiant colors evoke light and space. Some artists viewed pigment as pure light on the canvas.

These elements created simple, glowing paintings that aimed to provoke emotion through color alone.

Major Artists

Several important artists pioneered and developed the Color Field movement in Denver:

Gene Davis

Gene Davis painting

Gene Davis moved to Denver in 1957 and became a leading figure in the city’s Color Field scene. He created colorful, vertical stripe paintings inspired by the landscape of the Colorado plains. Major works include Black Grey Beat (1964) and Red on Green (1969).

Kenneth Evett

Evett was born in Denver and painted luminous landscapes and skyscapes. He layered oil paint and acrylic polymers to create translucent, glowing color fields. His work balances abstraction and representation.

Mary Chenoweth

Chenoweth’s Color Field paintings use brilliant, saturated bands of color set against white backgrounds. She often incorporated black lines and curves that dance across the canvas. She taught art and painting for many years at the University of Colorado Denver.

Clark Richert

Richert explored geometric abstraction using shapes and lines within color fields. His paintings feel mathematical and architectural while retaining emotional resonance. He often incorporates diamond motifs.


Color Field painting in Denver evolved through the 1960s and 1970s:

  • Early 1960s – Artists focused on Rothko-like compositions with blocks of color.
  • Mid 1960s – Paintings became more experimental and eccentric, like Davis’ stripes.
  • Late 1960s – Artists combined color fields with New Mexico landscape influences.
  • 1970s – Second generation Color Field artists emerged more concerned with formalism than spirituality.

Throughout its development, Color Field remained committed to abstract color and space over representation.


Though the height of the movement was relatively short-lived, Color Field painting in Denver left an important impact:

  • It established Denver as an important arts hub and viable alternative to the major coastal art centers.
  • The radiant luminous style influenced subsequent Colorado landscape painting.
  • It brought national attention to avant-garde painting developing outside of New York.
  • Artists expanded the creative possibilities for large-scale abstract painting.
  • The non-objective approach liberated painting from the need to depict recognizable subjects and objects.

Color Field Denver paved the way for new abstract approaches and reshaped painting in the region.

Notable Galleries

Several top Denver galleries promoted and exhibited Color Field painting:

Gallery Years Active Notable Artists
Denver Art Museum 1962-Present Gene Davis, Kenneth Evett
Rule Gallery 1959-2014 Mary Chenoweth, William Baziotes
Pirate Contemporary Art 1977-Present Clark Richert, Richard Kallweit

These pioneering galleries provided studio space, held exhibitions, and promoted the Colorado Color Field artists. They played a vital role in the development of the movement by giving the artists venues to show their radical painting experiments and creative color explorations.


In summary, Color Field painting emerged in Denver in the late 1950s as a regional variation of the national Color Field movement. Denver artists like Gene Davis, Kenneth Evett, Mary Chenoweth, and Clark Richert created luminous, vivid abstract paintings focused purely on color and space. The radiant style uniquely captured the light and landscape of the Colorado region. Though relatively short-lived, Color Field Denver made breakthroughs in abstraction and established Denver as a significant American art center. The innovations of these painters can still be felt in Colorado art today. If you have the chance, be sure to view some of the original artworks in person and experience these monumental fields of color firsthand.