Abstract expressionism

Abstract expressionism

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Artist Jackson Pollock


Abstract expressionism

It is the term that is applied to new forms of abstract art which are developed by American painters such as Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, and Willem de Kooning in the 1940s and 1950s. It’s characterized by gestural brush-strokes, mark-making, and the impression of spontaneity.

 Types Of Abstract Expressionism

Within abstract expressionism were 2 broad groupings. The so-called action painters, who attacked their canvases with expressive brushstrokes as well as the color field painters who filled their canvases with big places of a single color.


  • Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning led the action painters who worked in a improvisatory manner often using large brushes to make sweeping gestural marks. Pollock placed his canvas on the ground and danced, pouring paint from the can or trailing it from the brush. In this way, the painters placed their inner impulses onto the canvas.
  • The 2nd grouping included Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman & Clyfford Still. They were interested in religion, myth and created easy compositions with big areas of color intended to produce a contemplative and meditational response in the viewer. In an essay that was written in 1948 Barnett Newmann said: instead of making cathedrals out of Christ, man, and ‘life, we are making it out of ourselves, out of our own feelings. This approach to painting developed from about 1960 into what became called color field painting, characterized by artists using big places of more or less a single flat color.

 Abstract expressionism

In 1950, a group of artists wrote an open letter to the Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York. A survey exhibition was slated to open at the museum, American Painting Today 1950, but when the group took a look at the jury for the artist selection procedure, they deduced that it will almost definitely include the more conventional art of the Met’s then-conservative tastes. The letter claimed the museum was dismissing the pioneering work done in modern, advanced modes of art that they are practicing since the early 1940s. Their protest will prompt a rift in American art, between the many forms of abstraction they practiced which were supported by the Museum of Modern Art as well as its director Alfred H. Barr, Jr.—and the realist art that the Met curators considered the high expression of 20th-century American painting. LIFE magazine picked up the story, publishing an article in January 1951, titled Irascible Group of Advanced Artists Led Fight Against Show. A photograph accompanying the article showed a sharply dressed group of white men, looking poised & assertive, who will henceforth be called the Irascible. Jackson Pollock, Barnett Newman, Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko, Adolph Gottlieb, Jimmy Ernst, William Baziotes, Richard Pousette-Dart, Clyfford Still, Robert Motherwell, Ad Reinhardt, Theodoros Stamos, Bradley Walker Tomlin, James Brooks, and Hedda Sterne. Along with other artists who signed the open letter, David Smith, Hans Hofmann as well as Louise Bourgeois notable among them these men and women largely constituted the 1st generation of Abstract Expressionist artists. Though they worked in myriad styles and brought different themes to the creative table, these artists exhibited together as well as met in studios, bars, and cafés to exchange thoughts about their pioneering new form of art.

The increase of Abstract Expressionism 

Abstract Expressionism was 1st concocted in relation to Wassily Kandinsky and his oeuvre in 1919 in Germany. This was primarily directed at German Expressionists of this era as well as the certain anti-figurative aesthetic that came with their works. In 1929, Alfred Barr was the 1st American to use the term abstract expressionism, relating it to stylistic similarities to 20th-century Russian artists, precisely again to Wassily Kandinsky. American art critic Robert Coates more popularized the term by tying it into works by Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, and Arshile Gorky. Whilst Kandinsky is commonly cited as the pioneer of Abstract Expressionism, there are arguments that Swedish artist Hilma Af Klint might really claim that title having discovered it back in 1906. Af Klint was a daughter of an admiral and was born and brought up in a country that allowed women for studying art well before other European countries like France, Germany, or Italy. 

 Key Characteristics of Abstract Expressionism

Unconventional application of paint, typically without a recognizable subject that tends toward amorphous shapes in excellent colors. Slathering, dripping, smearing, and flinging many paints on to the canvas is another hallmark of this style of art. Gestural "writing" is integrated into the work Sometimes, in a loosely calligraphic manner. In the case of Color Field artists, the picture plane is carefully filled with zones of color that make the tension between the shapes and hues.

Abstract Expressionism’s Legacy

Through the 1950s, Abstract Expressionism became the dominant influence on artists both in the U.S. and abroad. The United States govt embraced its distinct style as a reflection of American democracy, and individualism as well as actively promoted global exhibitions of Abstract Expressionism as a form of political propaganda during the Cold War. However, several artists discovered it hard to replicate the emotional authenticity implicit in the stylistic innovations of de Kooning and Pollock. Their work seemed studied and lacked the same vitality of the 1st-generation pioneers. Other people saw the metaphysical undertones of it at odds with a society concerned with a customer mentality, fueled by economic success and proliferation of the mass media. Such reactions will inevitably lead to the emergence of Pop, Minimalism, and the increase of a range of new artistic developments in the mid-20th century.

The Influence of Abstract Expressionism

Abstract Expressionism flourished in the 1940s & 1950s, and the paintings were seen all over the globe in traveling exhibitions as well as publications. Minimalism and Pop Art had begun replacing Abstract Expressionism as the dominant art movement in the 1960s. The new generation of artists had tired of the serious, grand ambitions of the Abstract Expressionists and their want to portray transcendence and the sublime in art. Still, the legacy of Abstract Expressionism remains considerable. Take, for instance, Frank Bowling, an artist who moved to New York in the mid-60s and was profoundly influenced by Abstract Expressionism there, continuing to paint in this style through his career, regardless of what the famous styles of the times were. Furthermore, in recent years, female Abstract Expressionists such as Lee Krasner, long overshadowed by their male contemporaries, are receiving the attention they deserve. The Denver Art Museum’s 2016 show Women of Abstract Expressionism celebrated the underappreciated female artists of this groundbreaking art movement.

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