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Howard Mehring

(1931 - 1978)
A native of Washington, D.C., Howard Mehring studied, lived, and worked in Washington all his life, and became an influential member of the Washington Color School Painters – a group of Color Movement painters including Morris Louis, Kenneth Noland, Gene Davis, Thomas Downing, and Paul Reed.

Mehring graduated from Wilson Teachers College, where he studied under Leon Berkowitz, founder of the Washington Workshop Center for the Arts. In 1953, Berkowitz introduced Mehring to the Washington Workshop, where he formed relationships with Kenneth Noland and Morris Louis. He later joined the faculty and taught alongside Noland, Louis, and Gene Davis. In 1955, Mehring received his M.F.A. from Catholic University, where he made the acquaintance of Thomas Downing.

At the Washington Workshop, Mehring was exposed to the newest New York artists, such as David Smith and Cy Twombly, who exhibited their work at Catholic University at Noland’s instigation. It was through Noland and Louis that Mehring first saw the work of Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman, and Helen Frankenthaler, artists whose work would make a lasting impression on Mehring. These New York artists inspired Mehring to experiment with new techniques of pigment and surface, and the influence of Pollock and Frankenthaler in particular can be seen in much of Mehring’s early work. During a 1955 visit to Frankenthaler’s New York studio, Mehring witnessed Frankenthaler’s technique of staining raw canvas with pigment. Mehring was intrigued by the way Frankenthaler’s staining technique opened up the possibility of unifying color and canvas. Mehring soon began to experiment with mixing paint with metallic powder and pouring it onto canvases. These pouring and staining techniques were enhanced by Leonard Bocour’s invention of Magna, the world’s first type of acrylic paint, which was quickly adopted by Mehring and many of his contemporaries. Staining canvas with acrylic paint allowed Mehring to employ veils of color to create deep, luminous, and ambiguous spaces.

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