Abstract Expressionism

Abstract expressionism developed at the beginning of the 1940’s, before the end of the second world war. The abstract expressionist were primarily based in New York. They became known as the “New York School” and with it New York took over from Paris as the influential center of the art world. The movement became the first American visual art to attain international status and influence.

What is Abstract Expressionism About?

Abstract Expressionist painters opt against visual representation by abstracting objects with the aim to express a certain attitude of the artist. After the Second World War, artists struggled to believed they were able to improve the world with art. Key was individual form of expression and a painting without a message, subject called on viewers to use their own imagination.

Basically, abstract expressionism can be divided into two broad groupings, the action painters and the colour field painters. Characteristic of the action painters are gestural expressive mark making, large dynamic brushstrokes, paint applied with buckets, dripped or thrown and worked into the canvas with everything available in an effort to show feelings and emotions. 

Works are further characterised by a dependence on what appears to be accident and change, but which is actually highly planned. It is generally believed that the spontaneity of the artists approach to their work is a direct dialect between the conscious and the unconscious.

Colour field painters primary concern is the exploration of effects pure colour has on canvas. Main characteristics are flat form, usually relatively hard edged and strongly conditioned by colour relationships, in the context. It eliminates the gestural application of paint associated with the action painter.

For the Abstract Expressionists, the emotions and the expression was more important than perfection and regulations as with it they felt trapped. Initially, the public had difficulty with this new "wild graffiti" as it had nothing to do with what had generally been regarded as art.

Significant Abstract Expressionist Painters

The movement is closely associated with painters like Willem de Kooning, William Baziotes, Sam Francis, Helen Frankenthaler, Arshile Gorky, Franz Kline, Lee Krasner and Robert Motherwell.

Jackson Pollock’s (1912-56) and his Action Paintings is by many considered to be primary representative of the Abstract Expressionism

Significant Colour Filed Painters are Barnett Newman, Ad Reinhardt, Mark Rothko and Clyfford Still.