Newman was born in New York City, the son of Jewish immigrants from Poland. He studied philosophy at the City College of New York and worked in his father's business making clothing. He later made a living as a teacher, writer and critic. From the 1930s on he made paintings said to be in an expressionist style. He later destroyed all these works.
Throughout the 1940s he worked in a surrealist vein before developing his mature style. This has areas of pure color separated by thin vertical lines, or "zips" as Newman called them. In the first works featuring zips, the color fields are variegated, but later the colors are pure and flat. Newman himself thought that he reached his fully mature style with the Onement series (from 1948). The zips define the spatial structure of the painting, while simultaneously dividing and uniting the composition.
Newman died of a heart attack in New York City. He was unappreciated as an artist for much of his life, being overlooked in favour of more colorful characters such as Jackson Pollock. He was not a fan of Mark Rothko, his great rival in color field painting. Some critics wrote admiringly about him, but it was not until the end of his life that he began to be taken seriously. He was, however, an important influence on many younger artists.
- See his work at artsy.net: 
- The Barnett Newman Foundation website: Chronology of the artist's life page
- Sylvester, David (1998). The Grove Book of Art Writing. New York, NY: Grove Press. p. 537. ISBN 0802137202.
- Chilvers, Ian and Glaves-Smith, John 2009. A dictionary of modern and contemporary art. 2nd ed, (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, p512. ISBN 0199239665