Abstract Expressionism

Abstract Expressionism
First major new abstract style developed in the US after the emigration of refugee artists after WWI and before WWII
Started in NY – partly as a response to the chaos of the time – it turned against reason, used Surrealist improvisation
(the force of the unconscious)
They saw themselves as the future, their art was a weapon in a struggle to maintain their humanity – it turned inward
with a rough spontaneity and a lot of energy
The content was supposed to be grasped intuitively by each viewer
Jackson Pollock - American
Most associated with this movement
Brought his memories of open spaces of the southwest where he grew up and sand painting techniques of Native
American medicine men he had seen there
His style became a free, abstract style that had him working with his whole body in dynamic swirling gestures as he
poured or flung paint onto the surfaces of his canvases
– Lucifer
He unrolled a large section of canvas directly on the floor and dripped and splattered paint while moving
along the edge or across it
Felt more comfortable with it on the floor – he felt more a part of the painting – he could walk around it, work
from 4 sides and be in the painting
He would alternate between periods of spontaneous improvisation and careful scrutiny of the composition as
it developed
His methods were influenced by Kandinsky’s automatic and spontaneous non-objectivity
The random fall and spatter of paint emphasizes the liquid nature of the medium itself, but the gestures of
the artist have turned the paint into loose strings of colours that loop across the canvas
No easily identifiable shapes to help establish a normal figure/ground relationship
The rhythmic layers spread out and seem to extend far beyond the edges
He didn’t look out but down – made into a plane of confrontation when exhibited on a wall – gives a sense of
floating, gravity-less space
Painting becomes a record of Pollack’s actions in making it
The sense of process is stronger that the awareness of the painted surface itself
Willem deKooning - Dutch
made abstract works and energetic images of massive women – he is best known for these
his figures were inspired by women on billboards, but also suggest fertility figures
Woman I
o It’s defined by an almost manic excitement
o He worked at full speed at arm’s length
o The woman has an evil looking face with a toothpaste ad grin – she becomes a grimace or death’s head
o The effect he is going for is both construction and cancellation at the same time – a conflict between a sketch
and the finished picture
o The image seems to be always coming into being, but is demanding to be recognized
Organic and Colour Field Abstraction
Post-1940’s architecture and painting became more organic
Universal imagery was important to artists working in these modes
Frank Lloyd Wright
his residential designs were "Prairie Houses", so-called because the design is considered to complement the land
around Chicago. These houses featured extended low buildings with shallow, sloping roofs, clean sky lines, suppressed
chimneys, overhangs and terraces, using unfinished materials. The houses are credited with being the first examples
of the "open plan."
Falling Water – 1935
o It was designed according to Wright's desire to place the occupants close to the natural surroundings, with a
stream and waterfall running under part of the building.
o The construction is a series of cantilevered balconies and terraces, using limestone for all verticals and
concrete for the horizontals.
o In the late 1990s, steel supports were added under the lowest cantilever until a detailed structural analysis
could be done. In March 2002, post-tensioning of the lowest terrace was completed.
Guggenheim Museum in NYC
o He used reinforced concrete almost like clay – designed a structure inspired by the spiral of a snail’s shell
o Inside the building the shape of the shell expands towards the top and a winding interior ramp spirals to
connect the gallery’s bays which are illuminated by a strip of skylight embedded in the museum’s outer wall
o Long viewing area opens out onto a 90 ft central well of space
Color Field
Mark Rothko
Best known for this style
Used this approach to represent the sublime
Rothko came to believe that references to anything specific in the physical world conflicted with the sublime idea of
the universal, supernatural “spirit of myth” which he saw as the core of meaning in art
His work exemplifies simple expression of complex thought
Gradually reduced his compositions to 2 or 3 large rectangles composed of layers of colour with hazily brushed
contours spreading almost to the edges of the canvas
Subtle tonal variations go above the monochromatic effect and create a mysterious sense of forms or images hovering
in an undefined space
Four Darks in Red
o Perceived as a whole
Still shimmering veils of colour
Encourages a calm and contemplative mood
Op Art
Bridget Riley
In 1965 the term 'Op Art' entered the public consciousness. Op Art captured the imagination of the public
and became part of the swinging sixties. The fashion, design and advertising industries fell in love with its
graphic, sign-like patterns and decorative value. Op Art was cool, and Bridget Riley became Great Britain's
number one art celebrity.
The basis of the Op Art movement was a form of geometric abstraction, which was in a way impersonal and
not obviously related to the real world.
a huge hit with the public but proved to be less popular with the critics, who dismissed the works as trompe
l'oeil (literally 'tricks of the eye').
Movement in Squares