Abstract Expressionism

Abstract Expressionism began in the mid-1940’s in New York City and flourished through the 1950’s. The movement was regarded by many as the golden age of American art.

At that time, New York replaced Paris as the crux of the contemporary art movement. Even today, abstract expressionism continues to influence artists around the world, including Australia.

The abstract expressionist artists developed a revolutionary approach to painting. Instead of painting traditional pictures that told stories or created the appearance of reality, they painted pictures that conveyed emotions.

The abstract expressionists emphasised colour, brushstrokes, and the physical texture of paint.

Artists favoured large canvases, some as big as walls. Abstract expressionists also explored the relationship between positive and negative space. Some painters covered areas with pure colour, while others left large sections of bare canvas.

There were two major types of abstract expressionist painting:

  • Action Painting
  • Colour Field Painting

Two leading examples are Jackson Pollock and Mark Rotko.

Jackson Pollack’s work is considered action painting because of the way he would lay a canvas on the floor, and drip and splatter paint from above.

Mark Rotko practised colour field painting because he explored colour and shape.

Other influential abstract painters during the movement included Arshile Gorky, Hans Hoffman, Willem de Kooning, Adolph Gottlieb, Philip Guston, Franz Kline, Robert Motherwell, Barnett Newman, Clyfford Still, and Bradley Walker Tomlin.

Abstract expressionist paintings may look random and desultory, but the paintings contain deeper meaning.

Abstract expressionist artists believed that their work explored the human condition. The mere act of painting was seen as a way to release subconscious feelings and desires.

Other Art Movements

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