abstract expressionism art
A representation of a person or thing in a work of art.
A category of artistic practice having a particular form, content, or technique.
Abstract Expressionism marked the beginning of New York CityвЂ™s influence as the center of the Western art world. The world of the Abstract Expressionist artists was firmly rooted in Lower Manhattan. A walk along 8th Street would take you from the Waldorf Cafeteria, where penniless artists made вЂњtomato soupвЂќ from the free hot water and ketchup; past the Hans Hofmann School of Fine artists founded by the painter of the same name; to The Club, a loft where lectures and heated arguments about art carried on late into the night. Jackson PollockвЂ™s studio was on East 8th Street, Willem de KooningвЂ™s and Philip GustonвЂ™s were on East 10th, and although Franz Kline moved among various homes and studios in the area, most nights found him and many of his contemporaries at the Cedar Street Tavern on University Place.
Abstract Expressionism emerged in a climate of Cold War politics and social and cultural conservatism. World War II had positioned the United States as a global power, and in the years following the conflict, many Americans enjoyed the benefits of unprecedented economic growth.В But by the mid-1950s the spirit of optimism had morphed into a potent mix of power and paranoia. Fueled by the fear of Communist infiltration, Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin unleashed a series of вЂњwitch-huntsвЂќ against alleged Communist sympathizers. Any hint of subversion could make an individual suspect. One scholar later reflected: вЂњIt is ironic but not contradictory that in a societyвЂ¦in which political repression weighed as heavily as it did in the United States, abstract expressionism was for many the expression of freedom: the freedom to creative controversial works of art, the freedom symbolized by action painting, by the unbridled expressionism of artists completely without fetters.вЂќ 1
The third and least emotionally expressive approach was that of Rothko, Newman, and Reinhardt. These painters used large areas, or fields, of flat colour and thin, diaphanous paint to achieve quiet, subtle, almost meditative effects. The outstanding colour-field painter was Rothko, most of whose works consist of large-scale combinations of soft-edged, solidly coloured rectangular areas that tend to shimmer and resonate.
Although it is the accepted designation, Abstract Expressionism is not an accurate description of the body of work created by these artists. Indeed, the movement comprised many different painterly styles varying in both technique and quality of expression. Despite this variety, Abstract Expressionist paintings share several broad characteristics. They are basically abstract—i.e., they depict forms not drawn from the visible world. They emphasize free, spontaneous, and personal emotional expression, and they exercise considerable freedom of technique and execution to attain this goal, with a particular emphasis laid on the exploitation of the variable physical character of paint to evoke expressive qualities (e.g., sensuousness, dynamism, violence, mystery, lyricism). They show similar emphasis on the unstudied and intuitive application of that paint in a form of psychic improvisation akin to the automatism of the Surrealists, with a similar intent of expressing the force of the creative unconscious in art. They display the abandonment of conventionally structured composition built up out of discrete and segregable elements and their replacement with a single unified, undifferentiated field, network, or other image that exists in unstructured space. And finally, the paintings fill large canvases to give these aforementioned visual effects both monumentality and engrossing power.
The abstract expressionists were mostly based in New York City, and also became known as the New York school. The name evokes their aim to make art that while abstract was also expressive or emotional in its effect. They were inspired by the surrealist idea that art should come from the unconscious mind, and by the automatism of artist Joan Miró.
Within abstract expressionism were two broad groupings: the so-called action painters, who attacked their canvases with expressive brush strokes; and the colour field painters who filled their canvases with large areas of a single colour.
In distinction to the emotional energy and gestural surface marks of abstract expressionists such as Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning, the Color Field painters initially appeared to be cool and austere, effacing the individual mark in favor of large, flat areas of color, which these artists considered to be the essential nature of visual abstraction, along with the actual shape of the canvas, which later in the 1960s Frank Stella in particular achieved in unusual ways with combinations of curved and straight edges. However Color Field painting has proven to be both sensual and deeply expressive albeit in a different way from gestural abstract expressionism.
While Arshile Gorky is considered to be one of the founding fathers of abstract expressionism and a surrealist, he was also one of the first painters of the New York School who used the technique of staining. Gorky created broad fields of vivid, open, unbroken color that he used in many of his paintings as grounds. In Gorky’s most effective and accomplished paintings between the years 1941–1948, he consistently used intense stained fields of color, often letting the paint run and drip, under and around his familiar lexicon of organic and biomorphic shapes and delicate lines. Another abstract expressionist whose works in the 1940s call to mind the stain paintings of the 1960s and the 1970s is James Brooks. Brooks regularly used stain as a technique in his paintings from the late 1940s. Brooks began diluting his oil paint in order to have fluid colors with which to pour and drip and stain into the mostly raw canvas that he used. These works often combined calligraphy and abstract shapes. During the final three decades of his career, Sam Francis’ style of large-scale bright abstract expressionism was closely associated with Color field painting. His paintings straddled both camps within the abstract expressionist rubric, Action painting and Color Field painting.
Bradley Walker Tomlin – Number 20, 1949. Oil on canvas. 7′ 2″ x 6′ 8 1/4″ (218.5 x 203.9 cm). Gift of Philip Johnson. 58.1952. MoMA Collection
Another commonly overlooked first-generation Abstract Expressionist, Bradley Walker Tomlin mixed expressive action painting with a methodical quest for perfection. His marginalization is beginning to be corrected, thanks to a retrospective of his work on view through 11 December 1016, at the Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art in New York.
The impulse behind Colour Field painting was reflective and cerebral, characterized by simple pictorial imagery designed to create emotional impact. Rothko and Newman, among others, described their desire to achieve the “sublime” rather than the “beautiful.” A type of highly coloured minimalism, their style (according to Newman) aimed to liberate the artist from “all constraints of memory, association, nostalgia, legend, and myth that have been the devices of Western European painting.” Rothko’s own soft-edged rectangular shapes of glowing colour sought to envelop the viewer and trigger a semi-religious emotional experience, to the point of tears. Like Pollock and the action-painters, colour field paintings were executed on a monumental scale for optimum impact – not to invoke heroic grandeur but rather to influence and create an intimate relationship with the individual spectator. Rothko said, “I paint big to be intimate.”
The significance of these artists for the new American movement was acknowledged as early as 1944 by Jackson Pollock himself: “The fact that good European Moderns are now here is very important for they bring with them an understanding of the problems of modern painting.”