The Evolution of Abstract Expressionism
A canvas splattered with random colors sells for a billion dollars. What makes it so special? Anyone could do that. If you’re an art enthusiast you already know whom I’m referring to. Jackson Pollock’s “Convergence” is a great example to understand abstract Expressionism. Convergence is one of his iconic “drip paintings” which was created by dripping and pouring paint onto the canvas. This allowed the paint to flow across the board in a spontaneous and uncontrolled manner, creating a billion-dollar masterpiece.
One of the key features of Abstract Expressionism is the emphasis on the act of painting itself. Let us look at some of the most important figures of Abstract Expressionism as we further explore the topic.
A Short History – Abstract Expressionism
The origins of Abstract Expressionism can be traced back to the 1930s when a group of artists in New York began to experiment with new forms of painting. These artists include Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, and Mark Rothko. Their work was greatly influenced by European artists such as Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, and Wassily Kandinsky. These European artists were among the first to explore abstract forms in their work.
Abstract Expressionism fully emerged in the 1940s and 1950s in the United States and is considered one of the most significant art movements of the 20th century. The movement was characterized by large-scale, gestural, and often non-objective paintings that emphasized the physical act of painting. The material or type of paint was also of utmost importance.
Famous paintings from the Movement
The Movement was largely concentrated in and around New York City. As a result, abstract expressionists are also known as the New York School. There are two major subsets of this movement. The first is known as the action painters, whose canvases exude spontaneity through rapid brush strokes. The other subset is referred to as color field painters, whose work features large areas of a canvas filled with a handful of colors and smooth brushstrokes.
Onement 1 (1948) by Barnett Newman
The development of Abstract Expressionism was greatly influenced by the political and social climate of the 1940s. The movement can be seen as a direct result of World War II, where artists create work that reflected the trauma and uncertainty of wartime. This is evident in the work of artists such as Barnett Newman, who is known for his large-scale abstract paintings. Several of his works feature fields of color with a thin line of contrasting color running through the center. The contrasting lines or “zips” in the center of his composition became Newman’s signature style.
Onement 1 (1948) by Barnett Newman is characterized by its large size and minimal composition. The painting is dominated by a single, large expanse of Brick red or Indian Red with a thin, vertical stripe of cadmium red in the center.
Newman’s use of color in this painting is striking and has been the subject of much critical analysis. The painting’s simplicity and lack of representational elements are quite notable. The “zip” in the middle may be seen as an instrument, that has the power to divide or unite two worlds simultaneously.
No. 13 (White, Red on Yellow – 1958) by Mark Rothko
Mark Rothko was a color field artist. Rothko’s work is characterized by large canvases featuring blocks of color that seem to float over the canvas.
“No. 13 (White, Red on Yellow)” is a 1948 painting by the American artist Mark Rothko. The painting features a large, portrait canvas divided into three horizontal bands of color. The background is a shade of dull ochre yellow with a band of white and red on the top and the bottom edges respectively. These bands seem to float over the yellow background, creating a sense of depth and movement.
The white band is said to create a sense of serenity, while the red and yellow bands add a sense of emotion and drama to the composition. Rothko’s use of color fields and the emotional impact of color were major contributions to the development of abstract expressionism.
The Glazier (1940) by Willem de Kooning
Willem de Kooning was an action painter whose work is characteristically imposing. This imposition is both physical and emotional. Using large canvases and gestural brushstrokes helped the artist achieve a unique style of abstract impressionism.
“The Glazier” is a 1940 painting by the Dutch-American artist Willem de Kooning. The painting features the abstract figure of a human, rendered in a bold and gestural style. The man’s body is composed of sweeping brushstrokes and jagged shapes, creating a sense of movement and energy. The color palette is primarily made up of blues, yellows, and grays, with splashes of red and green, adding a sense of tension to the composition. The low-contrast color palette adds a sense of suffocation and drama to the composition.
Blue Nude IV (1952) by Henry Matisse
“Blue Nude IV” by the French artist Henri Matisse, is considered an important work of the Fauvist and Expressionist movement. The painting shows the crude figure of a reclining nude woman, drawn in a bold and simplified style. The woman’s body is composed of fluid lines and shapes, creating movement and sensuality.
The color palette consists of royal blue and white which create a sense of drama engulfed in serenity. Overall, Blue Nude IV is considered an important painting of the early 20th century and a key example of Henri Matisse’s contributions to the development of Abstract Expressionism.
The Liver is the Cock’s Comb (1944) by Arshile Gorky
“The Liver is the Cock’s Comb” is a painting by the Armenian-American artist Arshile Gorky. It is characterized by the use of abstract forms, biomorphic shapes, and vibrant colors.
The painting features a chaotic composition of abstract shapes and forms, rendered in a bold and gestural style. The jagged, brightly colored shapes create a sense of restlessness and energy. The painting has a surreal and dreamlike quality, with the forms evoking organic and biomorphic shapes.
The evolution of Abstract Expressionism was a significant movement in the history of art, and its influence can still be seen in contemporary art today. This movement set the stage for the development of other art genres, such as color field painting, Lyrical Abstraction, and even Minimalism. Key figures like Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko, and Barnett Newman, continue to be studied and admired for their contributions and impact on the development of modern art.
Frequently Asked Questions
What defines Abstract Expressionism?
Abstract Expressionism is an art movement that emerged in the United States in the 1940s and 1950s. It is characterized by a focus on abstract forms and the use of gestural brushstrokes, to express emotions and ideas through the use of color, form, and texture. The most important characteristics of Abstract Expressionism include Abstraction, color field paintings, action painting, large-scale canvases, and gestural brushwork. The movement shows a sharp departure from conventional figurative art while emphasizing the emotional impact of color and form.
What are the characteristics of Abstract Expressionism?
The movement is defined by a few key characteristics:
- Abstraction: Abstract Expressionists rejected representational art in favor of abstract forms. They sought to create art that expressed their innermost thoughts and feelings through the use of color and form.
- Action Painting: Many Abstract Expressionists used gestural brushstrokes and drip to create a sense of movement and energy in their paintings. This technique, known as action painting, was used to express emotion and movement through the physical act of painting.
- Large scale: Abstract Expressionists often worked on large canvases, creating art that was meant to be experienced on a grand scale.
- Gestural Brushwork: Abstract expressionism emphasizes the physical process of creating art, often using drips, smears, and other spontaneous figures.
- Colors are Expressive: Artists used color as an expressive tool to create emotions in the viewer.
These characteristics defined Abstract Expressionism as a movement and made it one of the most important and influential art movements of the 20th century.
What does Abstract Expressionism focus on?
Abstract Expressionism primarily focuses on the use of abstract forms and the use of gestural brushstrokes to express emotions and ideas. The movement emphasizes the process of creating art and the physical act of painting as a means of self-expression.
The goal of Abstract Expressionism is to create art that is not representational, but rather, evocative and expressive. Artists sought to express their innermost thoughts and feelings through the use of color, form, and texture. They used large canvases to create art that was meant to be experienced on a grand scale and often employed the use of drips, smears, and other spontaneous marks to create a sense of movement and energy.
Additionally, the movement also focuses on the use of color as an expressive tool to create emotions in the viewer. The use of color was not only to create a visually pleasing image but also to express emotions and ideas. Overall, Abstract Expressionism is focused on creating art that is expressive and emotional, using abstraction and gestural brushstrokes as the primary means of self-expression.
What are the examples of Abstract Expressionism?
- Jackson Pollock’s “drip paintings” such as “One: Number 31, 1950” and “Autumn Rhythm (Number 30)”
- Willem de Kooning’s “Women” series, such as “Woman I” and “Woman and Bicycle”
- Mark Rothko’s Color Field paintings, such as “No. 61 (Rust and Blue)”
- Barnett Newman’s “zip” paintings, such as “Onement I”
- Arshile Gorky’s biomorphic abstractions, such as “The Liver is the Cock’s Comb”
These are some of the most well-known and influential artists and works associated with the Abstract Expressionism movement, but there were many other artists and works that contributed to the development and evolution of the movement as well.