Abstract Expressionism – the most famous American style of modern painting

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Abstract Expressionism. James Brooks. Painting
Abstract Expressionism. James Brooks. Painting "Blagoda", 1957

Abstract Expressionism (from the Latin words abstractio – “distraction” and expressio – “expression”) is a movement in the pictorial art of the mid-twentieth century, which is characterized by the artist’s spontaneous representation of his own inner world and emotional experiences in the paintings. The adherents of abstract expressionism in their works completely relied on the unconscious, free from the laws of logic and mind control creativity, completely abandoning the image of objects of the real world.

Abstract Expressionism cannot be called a homogeneous artistic movement. On the contrary, this trend unites many different styles, methods and techniques that its supporters used to write works.

Abstract Expressionism. Albert Kotin. Untitled Painting, 1944.
Abstract Expressionism. Albert Kotin. Untitled Painting, 1944.

History of Abstract Expressionism

Abstract Expressionism as a fully formed direction in painting appeared only in the 40s of the twentieth century, but its origins in world culture can be found much earlier.

Abstract Expressionism. Arshile Gorky. Painting "Liver like a rooster's crest", 1944.
Abstract Expressionism. Arshile Gorky. Painting “Liver like a rooster’s crest”, 1944.

The term “abstract expressionism” was first introduced to the general public on the pages of Der Sturm magazine to describe the artistic style of German expressionists back in 1919. But then the name never took root in art circles. Abstract Expressionism.

Barnett Newman. Painting "Heroic and Sublime Husband", 1951
Barnett Newman. Painting “Heroic and Sublime Husband”, 1951

Abstract Expressionism has many stylistic similarities with various avant-garde trends of the early twentieth century. Painting “Heroic and Sublime Husband”, 1951.

Abstract Expressionism has many stylistic coincidences with various avant-garde currents of the early twentieth century. In the emotional intensity of works, it is close to German expressionism, futurism and synthetic cubism. From surrealism, the movement borrowed the urge to spontaneously reflect the depths of subconsciousness in paintings.

Abstract Expressionism. Willem de Kooning. Door to the River", 1960.
Abstract Expressionism. Willem de Kooning. Door to the River”, 1960.

In the early 1940s in the United States there were obvious prerequisites for the emergence of a new artistic movement. At that time, fleeing the persecution of the Nazis, many prominent European avant-garde artists settled in America, which had a noticeable impact on the worldview of local artists.

Abstract Expressionism. Hans Hoffmann. Painting "Sizzling", 1942.
Effervescence
1944
Oil, India ink, casein, and enamel on panel
54 ⅜ x 35 in. (138.1 x 91.1 cm)
University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive. Gift of Hans Hofmann, 1965 (1965.9)

The outbreak of World War II led to a crisis of traditional human values, including in the fine arts. This inevitably affected the creative individuals, many of whom began to look for new, revolutionary ways to express themselves.

Abstract Expressionism. Jackson Pollock. Painting "Number 5", 1948.
Abstract Expressionism. Jackson Pollock. Painting “Number 5”, 1948.

The cradle of the new artistic movement was New York, where most of the future founders of abstract expressionism lived and worked. In 1948, 15 like-minded painters, united, organized a boycott of the exhibition in the Museum of Modern Art. Journalists of the Life edition called the rebels The Irascibles – “Irritated”, and critics – abstract expressionists.

Abstract Expressionism. David Smith. Cubi VI" sculpture, 1963.
Abstract Expressionism. David Smith. Cubi VI” sculpture, 1963.

Since its inception, the new movement has been quite heterogeneous. Jackson Pollock was the founder of “Painting of Action”, Willem de Kooning preferred to work in the manner of grotesque figurativeness, and Mark Rothko invented “Painting the color field. These artistic techniques differ significantly from each other from an aesthetic point of view, but they are united by common goals and ideas, as well as the utmost directness of the author’s expression.

Abstract Expressionism. Jean-Paul Riopel. Painting "Untitled", 1951
Abstract Expressionism. Jean-Paul Riopel. Painting “Untitled”, 1951

It is thanks to abstract expressionism that New York City has eventually become one of the most influential centers of the world’s fine arts. Abstract Expressionism.

Clifford Steele. Painting "Number 1", 1957
Clifford Steele. Painting “Number 1”, 1957

Abstract Expressionism, as befits an ultramodern art movement, did not remain in the spotlight of the world public for long. Painting “Number 1”, 1957.

Abstract Expressionism, as befits an ultramodern art movement, did not remain in the center of attention of the world public for long. Already by the end of the 1950s, interest in it had quickly disappeared, and the works of supporters ceased to attract critics. But it had a huge impact on subsequent generations of artists and became a reliable foundation for contemporary American art.

Abstract Expressionism. Mark Rothko. Painting "Black on Brown", 1958.
Abstract Expressionism. Mark Rothko. Painting “Black on Brown”, 1958.

Distinctive features of abstract expressionism

The main distinguishing features of abstract expressionism are the following: Complete absence of real-world objects in the paintings. The strong emotional tension of the works. The author’s refusal a clearly structured composition consisting of separate elements in favor of a single background field in the painting. The huge size of most of the works.

VAV 1960 by Morris Louis 1912-1962
VAV 1960 Morris Louis 1912-1962 Presented by Mr and Mrs H.J. Heinz II through the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1968

Famous artists – abstract expressionists

Among the most famous artists, abstract expressionists are especially notable:
Jackson Pollock was the founder of the original art technique of “Painting of Action”. Pollock created his paintings by spraying paint on a horizontal canvas. The brilliant artist died at the age of 44 years in a car accident.
Willem de Kooning is an artist of Dutch origin, famous for his figurative abstractions. His manner is characterized by the use of sharp broad strokes and light palette of colors. Together with David Hockney in 1988 de Kooning was the first winner of the prestigious Imperial Prize of the Japanese Association of Arts.
Mark Rothko is the inventor of the color field painting and the author of the famous “multiform” series. Rothko refused to recognize his paintings as abstractions and, in principle, did not assign original names to his works.
Barnett Newman is an artist, who received wide recognition only by the age of 60, who personally destroyed all his early works. Creator of original chromatic abstractions and a highly spiritual man, who drew inspiration from Jewish mysticism.

Abstract Expressionism. Helen Hamilton. Painting "48 x 28", 1950. 
Abstract Expressionism. Helen Hamilton. Painting “48 x 28”, 1950.

 

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