Barnett Newman believed that “life is physical but it is also metaphysical—only those who understand the meta can understand the physical.”  His work explored the dynamic tension produced by the coexistence of opposites, particularly the confrontation between his expansive fields of color and the punctuations of his signature “zips.” His writings and statements—both impassioned and erudite—turned often on apparent riddles or paradoxes: with his trademark wit, he once stated, “I’m against the object as a thing; I’m also against the non-object as a thing.”  As characterized by Richard Shiff, “In its spatial and temporal senses, the prefix meta signifies ‘beyond’: situated after, past, above underneath, or even behind something else.”  Through both his work and his koan-like propositions, Newman was able to disrupt given dichotomies, privileging neither term in order to pursue what lay “beyond” such oppositions: form and content, subject and object, the art and the artist, the physical and the metaphysical.
In the spring of 1968, at the age of 63, Barnett Newman began to work in etching for the first time. He was in the midst of preparing for an exhibition at the Knoedler Gallery, his first solo gallery show in ten years; it would serve as a significant debut for the unparalleled accomplishments Newman had achieved in painting during the previous decade, and it would prove to be the last one-person exhibition to take place during his lifetime. To avoid the lure of the past, however, Newman was spurred towards experimenting with new modes of expression. Earlier that spring, on April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr., had been assassinated in Memphis; soon thereafter, Newman agreed to contribute a print to a portfolio to commemorate the slain civil rights leader, organized by collector and Jewish Museum trustee Vera List.  Newman decided his submission would be an etching despite having never worked in the medium before; this work would eventually become his Untitled Etching #1 (1969).  Newman’s abrupt embrace of a new artistic challenge was likely aided by the encouragement of Tatyana Grosman, founder of United Limited Art Editions (ULAE), with whom Newman had previously worked to create his series of lithographs 18 Cantos (1964). Grosman and ULAE had opened an intaglio workshop in 1967 and were eager for artists to explore the medium. Thus, on June 18, 1968, Grosman and Donn Steward, ULAE’s intaglio printer, delivered several small copper plates to Newman’s Upper West Side home, demonstrating the use of the stylus and scraper. Newman soon got to work: by October, he completed work on the plates for his Notes (1968), eighteen prints from twelve plates, all of which are on view here. In this short period of time and from this informal beginning, Newman would produce what Yve-Alain Bois has described as “the best prints made in the second half of this century, bar none.” 
It was not just the push-and-pull antinomies of time—old and new, the familiar and the unknown—to which Newman was at this point well-attuned, but scale as well. When Newman began to etch, he was simultaneously working in his studio on his largest painting, Anna’s Light (1968), an immense twenty-foot-long field of fierce, high-wattage red. The painting was a memorial to the artist’s mother, who had passed away in 1965. Newman’s etchings were a stark counterpoint to this; his method of working through oppositions in his practice—which he developed as an “antidote” to avoid becoming “intoxicated with scale”—here reached its apotheosis, with the artist concurrently working on his largest work and his smallest, these etchings. He worked on the small plates at home, in a process akin to drawing: intimate, exploratory, provisional. In many ways, this was not distinct from his approach to painting, which he explained in a 1965 interview: “I have never worked from sketches, never planned a painting, never ‘thought out’ a painting. I start each painting as if I had never painted before.”  What is significant in this portfolio, however, is that, unlike in his paintings, Newman’s process remains not only observable, but its display as such motivates the work itself. In Anna’s Light, Newman—working first with a roller before turning to a brush and in acrylic rather than his typical oil—achieved a sleek finish that sought to avoid traces of the artist’s hand; in the Notes, Newman’s marks transparently reflect the physical act of scraping and etching the copper plate. As noted by Newman’s friend and frequent interlocutor, critic Thomas Hess, “it is evident from the first of his etchings that the issue he confronted in the Notes involved the nature and capabilities of the cutting tools.” 
As alluded to in their eventual title, Newman originally approached the Notes as preparatory work for Untitled Etching #1 before deciding to publish them, unedited, as a portfolio. Due to constant activity on a number of other projects, publication of the Notes portfolio was delayed. Steward eventually printed the small edition of seven in March 1970 for which Newman planned to write an introduction, as he had previously done for his 18 Cantos; the two projects share not only the same number of prints but also allusions to music in their titles, a passion of Newman’s throughout his life. However, on July 4, 1970, the day he had planned to travel to the ULAE studio in West Islip to view the final proofs, Newman suffered a fatal heart attack. Ultimately, in 1978, ten years after Newman completed work on the plates, his widow Annalee Newman authorized the publication of the portfolio.  Ordered in the sequence in which Newman worked on them, the prints allow the viewer to follow Newman’s material investigations as he himself experienced them. The process of their creation as well as the development of Newman’s own familiarity with the potentialities and limitations of etching thus both remain uniquely evident in their published state.
By the time of his death, Newman’s influence as an artist, critic, and theoretician on younger artists like Jasper Johns, Donald Judd, and Brice Marden was readily apparent; Frank Stella recalled at the time that his generation had thought of Newman as a “folk hero figure.”  These artists were impacted not only by the elder artist’s pioneering paintings, but also by his printmaking, despite his limited graphic output and the late stage of his career at which he began to work in the medium. Johns featured an image of one of Newman’s earlier lithographs (which remains in his personal collection) in an important group of paintings in 1983 and 1984, including Racing Thoughts (Whitney Museum of American Art) and Ventriloquist (Museum of Fine Arts, Houston), as well as in a number of related drawings and prints. In the mid-1980s, Judd made plans to permanently display the complete oeuvre of Newman’s prints from his collection at his Chinati Foundation in Marfa, Texas.  Decades after Newman’s death, in 1996, Marden noted that “Of all the etchings in the world, [Newman’s Untitled Etching #2] has influenced me the most.” 
It is clear in Note I that Newman approached his plates not with a preordained end in mind, nor as an attempt to translate his work in painting to a graphic medium. Rather, the tripartite structure of the work demonstrates that Newman was led by his materials and his tools, new as they may be to him, in providing the logic and direction for his prints. Each of the three equal sections of Note I are devoted to the basic graphic element of etching, one that is absent from Newman’s mature paintings: the line. Newman’s “zips”—the vertical bands of contrasting color that structure and animate his paintings—are not lines, but thin “fields” of color, demonstrating that his play with scale occurs within his work as well. Despite the absence of line from his paintings, it held theoretical importance for the artist. In his 1947 essay “The First Man Was an Artist,” line itself serves as an origin point, not merely for art or aesthetics, but, in Newman’s reading, for culture and society more generally: “Man’s hand traced the stick through the mud to make a line before he learned to throw the stick as a javelin.”  Note I appears to demonstrate a kind of evolution from this point: the leftmost section features short, casual, vertical strokes; the center is filled with diagonal crosshatches that retain a certain looseness; at the right, the lines have snapped into a more formal, more tightly patterned grid. If a zip is for Newman “a field that brings life to the other fields, just as the other fields bring life to this so-called line,” these linear variations accomplish a similar feat, presenting compositional possibilities and alternatives within a single structure. 
Notes II-VII extend Newman’s intuitive inventory of graphic marks. Note II surrounds the central crosshatching of Note I with blank spaces on either side; Note III is looser and sketchier, with a central column of small, looping circular forms flanked on the right by hatches that are now arcing and gestural. Combinations and recombinations of these basic linear elements recur from one print to the next, not through a predetermined logic or systematic structure (methods that had quickly become common at the time among younger artists) but rather through the considered act of making itself, with Newman learning from each plate as he went. As characterized by Karoline Schliemann, “The first seven sheets, with their awkward circles, commas, and initially very crooked lines are most reminiscent of a beginner’s exercise … Newman seemed to be sounding out the limits of his mastery of the technique and investigating its effects.”  In his repeated use of crosshatches, Newman places a newfound emphasis on the diagonal and its potential for intersection, a first in his mature work. If Newman’s Notes represent an intersection of opposites—endings and new beginnings, the material and the immaterial—it is the diagonal that both allows and symbolizes such a connection between opposing points.
The variations within the first seven Notes are structured by Newman’s repeated employment of a similar vertical format and triadic structure. Three was a number Newman imbued with great significance, and the artist created a group of similarly titled works in the early 1960s: The Third (1962), The Three (1962), Tertia (1964), Triad (1965), as well as Treble (1960), the earliest of these works, which is on view here. In this work, Newman applied deep green paint along the central axis of the insistently vertical canvas, to which he had affixed two strips of masking tape. Newman often used tape to delineate his zips; here he painted over them before removing them, allowing the negative space of the unprimed canvas to structure the painting. Though painted earlier in the decade, the painting appears to have been on Newman’s mind during this period: Treble was on a preliminary checklist for the artist’s 1969 Knoedler exhibition before ultimately being featured on the announcement card for the show.  The work appeared as well as on the cover of the first monograph devoted to Newman’s work, which accompanied the exhibition; the book was authored by Hess, to whom Newman gifted the painting that same year.
The freedom and spontaneity Newman found in this kind of improvisatory mark-making had significant analogues in his thinking. Despite the non-objectivity of his works, Newman rejected outright any pretense of “formalism” that detached art from moral and political concerns, referring to artists who sought to do so as mere “decorators.”  He was instead an “artist-citizen,” establishing a continuity between his political commitments and his art, which he declared was an “assertion of freedom.”  An avowed anarchist, during the same year in which he etched and published his Notes Newman wrote the foreword for a new edition of the memoirs of the Russian anarchist Prince Peter Kropotkin (1842-1921) in which he directly linked the process of working “without planning, without making sketches upon sketches from which one renders a finished product” to “the anarchist idea of social spontaneity” and the “direct formation of social communities.”  For Newman, the grand idea of “the end of all state capitalism and totalitarianism” could be found in the scraping and etching of a small copper plate. In Hess’s words, for Newman “the more metaphysical the vision is…the more important becomes a continuing dialectical relationship with the material, the physical, the real, in the world of the here and now.” 
A sharp compositional distinction exists between the first seven prints of the portfolio and the subsequent eleven, which reflects a break in Newman’s process: the artist began working on the portfolio with the six original plates and only received the second set of six when he received his first proofs for Notes I-VI. After reviewing the proofs, Newman executed Note VII as a kind of capstone of the first six; it is thus in Note VIII that the clear break occurs. The horizontal space of the image—Note VIII is the only horizontal print in the portfolio—is divided into three unequal sections by two contrasting black zips: on the left, a thick black band and, on the right, a single, thin line. In Note VIII and the following prints, Newman replaced the linear exercises of the first seven prints with more controlled compositions, incorporating aquatint in order to achieve evenly inked “fields.” The artist’s emphasis on process here becomes even more visible to the viewer, as he chose to include the various states of these plates as equal components of the overall portfolio. In the case of Note VIII, the handworked scratchiness of the leftmost zip in the first state is, with the addition of aquatint, evened out into a richer, smoother black in State II. More dramatic transformations take place in the subsequent plates: in Notes IX-XII, the high-contrast black-and-white compositions of the initial states become monochromatic tonal studies of black on black.
Note VIII, in particular, remains pivotal to Newman’s artistic project as a whole. The elegance of its spare composition and the clarity of its restricted palette of black ink on white paper recalls Newman’s 1961 painting Shining Forth (To George) while at the same time anticipating Untitled Etching #1. The later etching and the earlier painting are closely linked not only in their design—which, unlike Note VIII, introduces a strong, central zip flanked near either edge by thinner zips—but also in their commemorative purpose. Untitled Etching #1, as discussed above, was originally intended as a memorial to the life of Martin Luther King, while Shining Forth (To George) was created as an homage to the artist’s brother, who passed away in February 1961. Newman sank into a depression following this loss, unable to paint for months. It was his first foray into printmaking that allowed him to overcome this block; encouraged by his friend and fellow artist Cleve Gray, Newman accompanied Gray to the Pratt Graphic Art Center, where the latter was working on a series of lithographs. Newman, who, at age 51, had never attempted printmaking of any kind, “began immediately to get interested.”  He soon thereafter produced three untitled lithographs at Pratt, after which he was able to return to painting, completing Shining Forth later that year. 
Alongside Shining Forth, one of the most important precedents for Newman’s Notes is his Stations of the Cross: Lema Sabachthani, a magisterial series of fourteen paintings completed between 1958 and 1966. Despite the sizable differences between the two bodies of work—of medium, of scale, and even of self-conscious artistic ambition, with the religious and historical connotations of the Stations standing in distinct contrast to the humble explorations of the Notes—formal and procedural parallels between the series prove to be mutually enriching. The fourteen paintings of the Stations of the Cross share (roughly) the same dimensions—78 inches by 60 inches—and feature only a restricted palette of black and white paints and the raw canvas itself, which Newman consciously cultivated “as color” in its own right.  Newman began work on the paintings that would comprise the series in 1958, when he completed the first two paintings; it was only two years later, after completing the third and fourth paintings, that he realized he was working on a series. It was at this point that Newman conceptually linked the series-in-progress with the tale of Jesus’s progression along the Via Dolorosa toward his crucifixion, giving the series the Aramaic subtitle of Christ’s protest from the cross: Lema Sabachthani, “[My god, my god] why have you forsaken me?”  For the artist, a secular but deeply spiritual Jew, the title was “not literal, but a cue,” a universalist identification with humankind’s “unanswerable cry” that continued to reverberate into the present day: “What I’m trying to capture in my work is the voice [asking] ‘Why are we living, and why are we dying? … How can you compare the nails of the Romans to the sort of things … going on in Vietnam, or the sort of things that happened in Hiroshima.”  Even after the discovery of the series’ theme, Newman continued to work on the series intermittently throughout the first half of the 1960s while completing a number of other works (including Treble), only producing the subsequent Stations “when there was a spontaneous, inevitable urge” to do so.  In 1966, Newman debuted the series in its entirety at the Guggenheim Museum, prompting largely confusion and even vitriol from critics, though it has since been recognized as perhaps the artist’s crowning achievement. 
On a formal level, the palette of the Stations of the Cross anticipates that of the artist’s later etchings, which feature only black ink on white paper, and his experience of harnessing of the raw canvas as a positive element of the compositions of these paintings is evident in his treatment of the white space of the paper throughout his etchings. The Stations are “built on an evolving set of interrelations rather than a system of theme and variations,” beginning with the First Station, which is anchored by a strong black zip along the leftmost edge and a feathered, negative zip off center to the right.  Newman returned to this format in Note X, a distinctive compositional link between the two series. As the Stations progress, Newman explores alternatives and reversals, first in the treatment of the zips themselves, and ultimately in transpositions of black and white and between paint and bare canvas.
As rare discrete series within Newman’s oeuvre, both the Notes and the Stations of the Cross offer particular insight into the artist’s process as a whole and its philosophical underpinnings. In an article for ARTNews, Newman revealed the give-and-take of his relationship with his paintings as he works on them: “It is as I work the canvas that the work itself begins to have an effect on me. Just as I affect the canvas, so does the canvas affect me.”  The stakes of this process—its drama, its uncertainty, its temporality—can be elided in the perception of a single finished painting, which can too often resolve into an image that appears predetermined or inevitable. Both the Stations and the Notes, which unfold temporally and spatially from work to work, return to the viewer the openness and contingency of the artist’s choices: the proportions and placement of each zip, the particular quality and finish of each paint (Newman used oil paint as well as three different synthetic paints in the series). In the same article, Newman emphasizes that this exploratory process, more visible in this series, undergirds his practice as a whole: “I began these paintings … the way I begin all my paintings—by painting.”  In both the Stations and the Notes, Newman’s formal choices do not develop from one work to the next according to a preordained system but were rather made organically through the consideration of the earlier works and the process of creation itself. For the viewer, this remains most evident in these two series, particularly due to their sequencing: both the Stations of the Cross and the Notes are numbered by the order in which they were completed. Newman wrote at the time of their debut at the Guggenheim: “I was a pilgrim as I painted”; fittingly, we, as viewers, are able to follow this pilgrim’s progress. 
Although Newman’s untitled etchings extend his engagement with the simplicity of black ink on white paper, a clear break exists between these latter two works and the Notes. Newman shifted to working on larger plates and with a straightedge, forgoing the freehand gestures of the earlier Notes. The demarcation is signaled also in symmetry of the untitled etchings: while Notes IX-XII played with the perception of symmetry, generating dynamism through near or apparent compositional balance, the central black zips of Untitled Etching #1 and especially #2 emphatically center their compositions. In the words of Gabriele Schor, Untitled Etching #1 displays a “fluctuating symmetry” caused by the difference between the two outer zips: at the left, a thin black band, created, like the inner zip, through the use of aquatint; on the right, on the other hand, Newman has created the effect of a single zip through the close proximity of four thin parallel lines. For Schor, the “bundle of thin lines introduces a counterweight, an opposing force, into the print,” demonstrating the ways in which Newman translated painterly effects—in Shining Forth, the rightmost zip is a “reverse” zip, “rendered as a reserve of unpainted canvas surrounded by feathered edges”—into his graphic work. 
His largest etching, Untitled Etching #2 returns to the trisected vertical format of the majority of the Notes, refining in particular the composition of Note XI (State I): a central field of dense black ink is flanked by two equal fields of white, where the carefully polished plate was left unetched. Untitled Etching #2 replaces the productive provisonality and handcrafted imbalance of the earlier etching with a sense of physical authority and command through the imposition of a rigid symmetry. The central black field is assertive, steadfast, appearing at times to project out from the image; Schor describes it as “ris[ing] away from” the “white of the paper.”  Seen from other vantages, however, it seems to recede into the picture plane, as if it were a void into which one could step: an intersection of the physical and the metaphysical, a potential passage into the “beyond.” Even in such a minimal and seemingly static composition, Newman thus introduces doubt and multiplicity, generating a dynamic uncertainty through alternate readings that flicker in and out of focus. State II of Note XI achieves a similar effect through the subtle opticality of Newman’s black-on-black composition; at the time of his death, Newman was working on a similar black-on-black version of Untitled Etching #2.
Newman’s late career turn to etching is among the clearest examples of the artist’s restless, lifelong search, in the words of Richard Shiff, “to create a new beginning.”  These new beginnings were what Newman sought beyond the rigid binaries he worked to overcome: the line and the field, the material and the immaterial, the physical and metaphysical. Returning to the significance of the number three in Newman’s work, the zip can be seen as a potential third term that holds these dichotomies in tension without displacing them; Newman once explained that the zip “does not divide my paintings. … it does the exact opposite: it unites the thing. It creates a totality.”  As a microcosm of Newman’s working methods, the Notes make evident that such a totality is not achieved in a single moment of transcendence nor does it imply a final state of homeostasis. Rather, it is a continual process, an ongoing pilgrimage, one that is not merely aesthetic but speaks to the human condition: in 1965, Newman stated that he hoped his work “has the impact of giving someone, as it did me, the feeling of his own totality, of his own separateness, of his own individuality, and at the same time of his connection to others, who are also separate.” 
1. Barnett Newman, Note I (detail), 1968. Etching, printed in black on Italia white wove paper, 5 15/16 x 2 15/16 inches, Plate; 19 7/8 x 14 inches, Sheet. Edition of 7. Private Collection.
2. Installation view, Newman: Notes, Craig F. Starr Gallery, May 5 - August 5, 2022.
3. Barnett Newman, The Stations of the Cross, 1958-1966. National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC. Robert and Jane Meyerhoff Collection. Installation view, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC.
 Barnett Newman quoted in Richard Shiff, “To Create Oneself,” in Barnett Newman: A Catalogue Raisonné (New York and New Haven: The Barnett Newman Foundation and Yale University Press, 2004), p. 3.
 Richard Shiff, “To Create Oneself,” p. 3.
 Newman later withdrew from the project when it changed to poster reproductions rather than original works of art. Barnett Newman (Philadelphia: Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2002), p. 296.
 By the time that Newman had withdrawn from the Vera List project, in late 1968, an edition of 27 had already been printed, which the artist left unsigned. This edition is now known as Untitled Etching #1 (First Version), which was eventually issued posthumously and signed by Newman’s widow in 1976. A signed edition of 28 of Untitled Etching #1 was produced by the artist in 1969.
 Yve-Alain Bois, “Here to There and Back: Barnett Newman in Restrospect,” in Artforum (March 2002).
 Barnett Newman, “’Frontiers of Space’ Interview with Dorothy Gees Seckler,” in Barnett Newman, Selected Writings and Interviews (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 248.
 Thomas Hess quoted in Gabriele Schor, The Prints of Barnett Newman 1961-69 (Ostfildern-Ruit, Germany: Verlag Gerd Hatje, 1996), p. 28.
 The seven complete editions of the Notes are held by the following collections: the Museum of Modern Art, Harvard University, the Art Institute of Chicago, the collection of Jasper Johns, the Donald Judd / Chinati Foundation, the Kunstmuseum Basel, and a private collection.
 Frank Stella quoted in Richard Shiff, “Whiteout: The Not-Influence Newman Effect,” in Barnett Newman (Philadelphia: Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2002), p. 90.
 “Later it was planned that the complete prints of Barnett Newman would be permanently shown”; Donald Judd, “Marfa, Texas” (1985), in Donald Judd Writings, p. 429. “Later the possibility arose, thanks to Annalee Newman, of installing the complete prints of Barnett Newman, which will eventually be accomplished by my foundation”; Donald Judd, “Statement for the Chinati Foundation/La Fundación Chinati” (1987), in Donald Judd Writings, p. 489. https://juddfoundation.org/index-of-works/note-ii-from-notes-1968/
 Brice Marden quoted in Gabriele Schor, The Prints of Barnett Newman, p. 34.
 Barnett Newman, “The First Man Was an Artist (1947),” in Selected Writings and Interviews, p. 159.
 Barnett Newman, “Interview with David Sylvester,” in ibid., p. 256.
 Karoline Schliemann, “Barnett Newman’s Prints,” in Barnett Newman: Drawings and Prints (Bielefeld, Germany: Kerber Verlag, 2015), p. 55.
 Ann Temkin, “Barnett Newman on Exhibition,” in Barnett Newman (Philadelphia: Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2002), p. 67, n. 186.
 Barnett Newman quoted in Richard Shiff, “Introduction,” in Selected Writings and Interviews, p. xv.
 Barnett Newman, “Frontiers of Space,” in ibid., p. 251.
 Barnett Newman, “‘The True Revolution Is Anarchist!’: Foreword to Memoirs of a Revolutionist by Peter Kropotkin,” in ibid., p. 51.
 Quoted in Schor, The Prints of Barnett Newman, p. 28.
 Cleve Gray quoted in ibid., p. 7.
 These three untitled prints are catalogue numbers 202, 203, and 204 in Barnett Newman: A Catalogue Raisonné, pp. 454-56.
 Barnett Newman, interview by Allene Talmey, 1966, audiotape, Barnett Newman Foundation Archives; cited in Shiff, “To Create Oneself,” p. 65.
 Barnett Newman, “From Barnett Newman: The Stations of the Cross, Lema Sabachthani,” in Selected Writings and Interviews, 188.
 Barnett Newman quoted in Newsweek (May 9, 1966), p. 100, cited in Selected Writings and Interviews, p. 187; Barnett Newman, “The Fourteen Stations of the Cross, 1958-1966,” in Selected Writings and Interviews, p. 190.
 Newman, “The Fourteen Stations of the Cross, 1958-1966,” p. 190.
 A fifteenth painting, entitled Be II (1961/1964), was also included and has remained with the series since.
 Barnett Newman (Philadelphia: Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2002), p. 229.
 Newman, “The Fourteen Stations of the Cross, 1958-1966,” p. 189.
 Barnett Newman quoted in Newsweek (May 9, 1966), p. 100, cited in Selected Writings and Interviews, p. 188.
 Schor, The Prints of Barnett Newman, p. 34; Shiff, “To Create Oneself,” p. 66.
 Richard Shiff, “Introduction,” in Selected Writings and Interviews, p. xv.
 Newman, “Interview with Emile de Antonio,” in ibid., p. 306.
 Newman, “Interview with David Sylvester,” in ibid., p. 257.