Howard Mehring American, 1931-1978


Though a central figure in the Washington Color School, Howard Mehring stands apart for using dazzling geometric forms in his compositions, while his contemporaries generally preferred more organic shapes. Born in 1931 in Washington, DC, Mehring studied art at Catholic University, completing his MFA in 1955. While at the university he met Kenneth Noland, a teacher and leader in the Washington Color School, and Thomas Downing, a fellow art student with interests similar to his own.


Mehring and Downing spent the first few years after graduation sharing studio space, and during this period their work was strikingly similar. At the time Mehring painted loosely in Magna acrylics, a medium most famously associated with such Color Field painters as Noland, Morris Louis, and Helen Frankenthaler. As his art matured, though, he turned to an allover, geometric format within which to deploy vibrant swaths of opaque color, and it is this style that has come to be most associated with his work.


These hard-edge, vibrant compositions were well received critically, and Clement Greenberg included them in his groundbreaking 1964 exhibition Post-Painterly Abstraction. The following year Mehring had his first solo show, at New York’s A.M. Sachs Gallery, and in subsequent years he was included in group shows at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Jewish Museum. 


In the late 1960s Mehring abruptly ceased painting to focus instead on drawing. An exhibition of his drawings appeared at the Phillips Collection Washington, DC, concurrently with a painting retrospective at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in 1977. Mehring died three months after they closed. Today his work can be found in many important collections, including the Tate Gallery, London; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC