He was born in Asheville, North Carolina, in 1924. His father, a pathologist, was an amateur painter, who lent his materials to Noland when the latter showed an interest in art as a teenager.
After serving in the US Air Force during World War II — as a glider pilot and cryptographer — Noland entered Black Mountain College, near his hometown, in 1946. His tutors there included Josef Albers and Ilya Bolotowsky, whose geometric abstraction would serve as an influence Noland’s mature work, though his early pictures owe more of a debt to Paul Klee.
He lived in Washington D.C. between 1949 and 1962, and it was there that he began his now-famous canvases composed of concentric circles in a subtle range of thicknesses and a great variety of colours. He once described colour as the ‘generating force’ of his art.
In the initial paintings of this type, Noland’s circles were relatively soft-focus. Later, they grew sharper. One well-known circle painting is Beginning (1958), which today forms part of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden’s collection in Washington D.C.
Noland was particularly fond of applying thinned acrylic paint to unprimed canvas — following the example of Helen Frankenthaler, whose studio he had visited in 1953 on a trip to New York.
In the early 1960s — around the same time that he moved to Vermont — Noland shifted his artistic attention from circles to chevrons. In subsequent years, his repertoire of geometric motifs expanded to include horizontal stripes and plaid patterns. He would experiment with this repertoire for the rest of his career. In the mid-1970s, he also started to adopt shaped canvases.
Noland was the subject of a number of major exhibitions worldwide during his lifetime, including a retrospective in 1977–78 which was seen first at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York and then travelled to other US venues. He died in 2010, aged 85.