In his art, Noland tends to deal with only a few elements: color, and a singular form within a given structure. He has concentrated on using geometric motifs in a succession of formats: circles, chevrons, and diamonds, as a means of focusing on the way in which color can function dynamically on the two-dimensional surface. The mood of Noland’s paintings changes depending on the selection and textures of the colors, and the primary function of shape in Noland’s art is to serve as a vehicle for expressive color, with no particular allusion beyond itself. Noland’s formats are designed to support relations of color.
Departing from his principal image of the mid-1950s, the circle or concentric circles, in 1962 Noland began his second substantial series, using the chevron. For Noland, the chevron marked a dramatic shift from the rounded edges of circles to the straight edge. The chevrons usually consist of V-shaped bands that descend from the upper corners of a square-shaped canvas to meet at the center of the lower canvas edge. Characteristic of Noland’s work at this time is his Untitled (1978), depicting a centralized V-shaped form. Here, the point of the lowest chevron hovers above the bottom edge of the picture, creating a tense visual relationship. Noland finds a balance between structure and color in Untitled, where the central chevron is thoroughly integrated within the square. The process by which the work was made, aquatint, asserts the structural unity of the work, as flat areas of intense color, aligned one next to another and tightly locked within the bands of the chevron, fuse into the paper itself. Thus, the motif and the field in which it resides are unified.
Noland’s experiments with the chevron design were varied—he also rendered asymmetrical chevron pictures, where the shape was tipped to one side or placed off center. However, in all his works, the predominant shape is the vehicle for color, the essential expressive element.