Rather than being a distinct type of art, Abstract Expressionism is a specific art-movement that started in the 1940’s and was famed for New York replacing Paris as the centre of the art world. Although Abstract Expressionism was popular during the 1940s, the term was actually used as early as 1919 when American art historian, Alfred Barr, used the expression to describe the works of Wassily Kandinsky, a Russian-born painter who resided in Munich.
It was the post-war era that really saw Abstract Expressionism take centre-stage, as it was seen as an outlet for young artists to create pieces of work based on the man’s dark side and human irrationality, something that has been witnessed considerably during World War II. The movement introduced a new bohemian style into the world of art, giving artists a chance to paint in a dramatic manner, while giving them plenty of room to experiment.
Pioneers of Abstract Expressionism
One pioneer in the world of Abstract Expressionism was Jackson Pollock, who was famed for his unique style of drip-painting. Pollock took inspiration from a number of different artists when creating his works of art. Although never confirmed, it is thought that the works of Ukrainian American Janet Sobel were one such influence. Pollock saw Sobel’s all-over painting in 1946, and it was thought to have made a big impression on him. Pollock had a unique approach to his work, where he would place the canvas on the floor rather than an easel. Pollock explained that the reason he did was due to him needing the resistance of the hard floor, as well as having a larger space to work with when it came to creating his art, much like an Indian sand painter.
As Abstract Expressionism was based on the inner-turmoil, it meant that very rare that there would be similar works of art by two different artists. Whereas Pollock’s work was often created using freedom and dripping, the works of American artist Barnett Newman were more existential in content and tone. The works normally consisted of vibrant and bold colours, often separated by thin vertical lines, which Newman referred to as zips. Newman’s works are thought to communicate a sense of contingency, locality and presence.
The two different artists would pave the way for two broad groupings within the genre. The action painters were those who were seen to create works in a similar way to Pollock, and often saw works created in a spontaneous manner using dripping or poured paint and large brushes. The work of Newman would fall under the colour-field painters’ moniker, and would often see works created with large areas of colour, often including a religious or mythical influence.
Abstract Expressionism flourished during the 1940s and 1950s, and would become one of the most popular movements in art in years to come. Works were often showcased around the world as well as being predominantly featured in art magazines. Younger generations of artists hailing from Europe and America would go on to use these works as an influence for their own forms of expression, while still injecting their own originality as a mark of respect for those who drove the movement the first time around.