was abstract expressionism a movement
Orange & Yellow (1956)
By Mark Rothko, famous for
his large-scale colour painting.
EVOLUTION OF VISUAL ART
For details of art movements
and styles, see: History of Art.
Abstract Expressionism is best known for large-scale paintings that break away from traditional processes, often taking the canvas off of the easel and using unconventional materials such as house paint. While Abstract Expressionism is often considered for its advancements in painting, its ideas had deep resonance in many mediums, including drawing and sculpture.
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 early Abstract Expressionists had two notable forerunners: Arshile Gorky, who painted suggestive biomorphic shapes using a free, delicately linear, and liquid paint application; and Hans Hofmann, who used dynamic and strongly textured brushwork in abstract but conventionally composed works. Another important influence on nascent Abstract Expressionism was the arrival on American shores in the late 1930s and early ’40s of a host of Surrealists and other important European avant-garde artists who were fleeing Nazi-dominated Europe. Such artists greatly stimulated the native New York City painters and gave them a more intimate view of the vanguard of European painting. The Abstract Expressionist movement itself is generally regarded as having begun with the paintings done by Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning in the late 1940s and early ’50s.
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.
Key artists: Jackson Pollock, Lee Krasner, Mark Rothko, Willem de Kooning, Elaine de Kooning, Barnett Newman, Clyfford Still, Franz Kline, Harold Shapinsky, Robert Motherwell, Helen Frankenthaler, Cy Twombly, Ann Ryan, Ad Reinhardt
In the years following World War II, a group of artists who rejected figuration in favour of abstraction emerged in the United States. They became known as the Abstract Expressionists.
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.
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.