Art Isms: Abstraction ... Abstract Expressionism

Joy Walker, Jack Tricarico, Gloria Lippmann, Patricia Rendleman


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The Abstract Expressionists revolutionized art and moved the United States to the center of the international art scene during the 1940's and 1950's. Based primarily in New York city, this group of artists with radically different styles created a new visual language based on color, motion, and the expression of universal truths. In the process, they transformed the art of painting into a means of self-discovery, which was both uniquely American and utterly new.
Way Down Where
© Patricia Rendleman
No. 0786
Painting

Madras Study
© Gloria Lippmann
Madras Study No. 2

Madras Rhythmn
© Gloria Lippmann
Madras Rhythmn No. 1
Painting

Madras Rhythmn
© Gloria Lippmann
Madras Rhythmn No. 2
Painting

Brown Orange Rendleman
© Patricia Rendleman
Brown Orange
Painting

Mandate
© Joy Walker
Mandate
Painting on Cut Out Sheet Metal


Abstract painting is free of the representational demands that limit improvisation. Abstraction is concerned with the order of shapes inside the picture.


Space Cadet
© Jack Tricarico
Space Cadet
Painting

 

Jack Tricarico Painting
© Jack Tricarico
Passing Through
Painting

Madras Study
© Gloria Lippmann
Madras Study No. 1
Painting


Abstract Expressionism, a movement originating in New York City in the 1940s. It emphasized spontaneous personal expression, freedom from accepted artistic values, surface qualities of paint, and the act of painting itself. Pollock, de Kooning, Motherwell, and Kline, are important abstract expressionists.

Abstract Expressionism is visually diverse, emphasizing color and non-figurative abstraction through the spontaneous act of painting. Attitude, rather than technique, is the bond Abstract Expressionists shared, in both self-expression and the actual art of painting.

Abstract Expressionism is generally divided into two groups: Color-Field artists (Mark Rothko, Piet Mondrian), used broad unified blocks of color while Gestural artists (Jackson Pollock, Franz Kline), used visible strokes to create movement, texture and art.

Way Down Where
© Patricia Rendleman
Way Down Where
Painting

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Abstract Expressionism

However great a disaster World War II was, it did at least mean that artists such as Piet Mondrian and Max Ernst, in leaving Europe for the safety of the USA, greatly extended their artistic influence. It is impossible to estimate how much they affected American art, but the fact remains that in the 1940s and '50s, for the first time, American artists became internationally important with their new vision and new artistic vocabulary, known as Abstract Expressionism. The first public exhibitions of work by the ``New York School'' of artists-- who were to become known as Abstract Expressionists-- were held in the mid '40s. Like many other modern movements, Abstract Expressionism does not describe any one particular style, but rather a general attitude; not all the work was abstract, nor was it all expressive. What these artists did have in common were morally loaded themes, often heavyweight and tragic, on a grand scale.

In contrast to the themes of social realism and regional life that characterized American art of previous decades, these artists valued, above all, individuality and spontaneous improvisation. They felt ill at ease with conventional subjects and styles, neither of which could adequately convey their new vision. In fact, style as such almost ceased to exist with the Abstract Expressionists, and they drew their inspiration from all directions. The painters who came to be called ``Abstract Expressionists'' shared a similarity of outlook rather than of style -- an outlook characterized by a spirit of revolt and a belief in freedom of expression. The main exponents of the genre were Pollock, de Kooning, and Rothko, but other artists included Guston, Kline, Newman and Still. The term Abstract Expressionism was first used by Robert Coates in the March issue of the New Yorker in 1936. The movement was hugely successful, partly due to the efforts of the critics Harold Rosenberg and Clement Greenberg who also originated the terms Action Painting and American Style.

Pink Rain
© Joy Walker
Pink Rain
Painting

Madras
© Gloria Lippmann
Madras
Painting


"The function of an artist is to express reality as felt."

Robert Motherwell



One of the most influential art teachers of the 20th century, Hans Hoffman (1880-1966) pioneered a method of improvisational painting that helped shape the development of abstract art after World War II. The Golden Wall (1961) features his trademark "push and pull" technique: geometric shapes that animate the canvas by seeming to shift and overlap.

Influencing much of the American abstract art that followed, Arshile Gorky (1904-1948) developed an original style that combined cubism and surrealism with his own disguised imagery. The Liver is the Cock's Comb (1944) -- one of his largest and greatest pictures -- uses abstract forms to camouflage a deeply personal portrait of his family at home.

Adolph Gottlieb (1903-1974) created a uniquely American blend of inspiration from late medieval and early Italian Renaissance masters, European cubism, and the freely expressive line of surrealism in his innovative "Pictographs" of the 1940s. Romanesque Facade (1949) brings together his aspiration to be intuitively understandable to everyone and to convey a universal emotional reality.

Joan Mitchell (1925-1992) created expansive paintings with an energetic style distinguished by large gestural strokes, driving brushwork, and emotional intensity. She is perhaps best known for her ability to communicate the visual sentiments of nature -- or, in her own words, "to convey the feeling of the dying sunflower." La Grand Valee O (1983) is one of 21 opulent French landscapes.

Clyfford Still (1904-1980) painted ponderous, abstract canvases to convey universal themes about the human condition. 1948-C (1948) illustrates his signatory style of richly textured surfaces, expressive lines and shapes, and sublime color in an expansive field. Still kept tight control of his work, much of whcih has never been said.


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