Joe Novak's focus throughout his career has been the exploration of color and light through abstraction. During the eighties and nineties, he painted large monochromatic color field canvases with tonal gradations and soft edges that infuse them with a meditative quality and a sense of movement. When illuminated they become glowing surfaces of color and light. The art critic Peter Frank has written of this work: "One step beyond Rothko's, Novak's paintings gently force the eye to breathe color."
During the nineties, while living and working in Santa Fe, New Mexico, Novak initiated a project called "Light Emanations", in which he created computerized programs of changing light levels and configurations on a selection of his large paintings, dramatically illustrating the effect of light changes on color perception.
Novak's work there drew the attention of Timothy Rub, currently director of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and former director of the Hood Museum of Art at Dartmouth College. Rub became the moving force behind Novak's 2002 Hood Museum exhibition "Joe Novak: Paintings, 1993-1999". His introduction in the accompanying catalogue compared Novak's paintings to those of Rothko and Morris Louis, concluding "... this is not a matter of superficial resemblance but rather of spiritual kinship with those who believed in the language of abstraction and the power of painting to offer the viewer an experience that is, in essence, transcendental... One cannot fully appreciate his paintings without seeing them under the controlled conditions of graduated lighting that he has conceived as an integral aspect of their presentation. For it is here that Novak's artistry is fully revealed."
Novak's body of work is extensive and includes paintings on canvas, panel and paper as well as monotypes, drawings, assemblages, mixed media and prints. He has often worked in series, focusing on a particular medium for years. Among these are "Meditations" (color pencil drawings), "Voices" and "Voices 2" (color aquatint etchings), "Echoes" (painting assemblages with minerals) and "Colors" (350 miniature panel paintings). In recent years his paintings have become more gestural, often with musical allusions.
He has said: "Creating art is a journey into the unknown that is challenging, fulfilling and sometimes magical. For me it is about having a vision, doing the work, being open, taking risks, respecting the materials and listening to the eye."
Novak's work is in many public and private collections, including numerous museum collections.