After the Second World War, a new expression emerged in the art world, developed by American painters such as Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko and Willem de Kooning. In the midst of the cold war, Jackson Pollock's works expressed the idea of freedom that the United States intended to communicate to the rest of the world. Thus, this movement was embraced due to its impression of spontaneity and as a way to “fight” Russian figurative art. For the artists, this movement, characterized by spontaneous gestural brushstrokes, was a way of expressing their emotions in an abstract way, as the name implies.
Action Painters vs Color Field Painters
Within abstract expressionism there were the so-called action painters, who created canvases full of expressive brushstrokes; and color field painters, canvases with large areas of a single color.Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning were the leaders of the first group, action painters, working in an improvised and spontaneous way, in order to create sweeping gestural marks and directly express their inner impulses on canvas. Jackson Pollock invented several techniques for the production of his magnificent works, from laying the canvas on the floor to dancing around and spilling paint from the can.
The second group included artists such as Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman and Clyfford Still, deeply interested in religion, myths and in creating simple compositions with large areas of color intended to produce a contemplative and meditative response in the viewer. In an essay written in 1948, Barnett Newmann stated: "Instead of making cathedrals out of Christ, man, or ''life'', we are making it out of ourselves, out of our own feelings". This approach to painting developed around 1960, and became known as "The color field painters", due to the chapter of book “Abstract Expressionism” by Irvine Sandler. Later, a more purely abstract form of this strand emerged with the works of Helen Frankenthaler, Morris Louis, Kenneth Noland, Alma Thomas, Sam Gilliam and others.
Who was Jackson Pollock?
One of the most famous American artists of the 20th century, who is best known for pioneering the acrobatic process of producing large-scale action or gestural painting. Before developing his iconic style, Jackson Pollock worked for the WPA Federal Art Project and studied with David Alfaro Siqueiros. During his lifetime, Pollock exhibited widely in New York and beyond. Since his untimely death in 1956, his works have been exhibited at institutions such as the Museum of Modern Art, Center Pompidou, Guggenheim Museum, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and Kunstmuseum Basel, and his paintings have sold for tens of millions. of euros.
Who was Willem de Kooning?
One of the most important artists of the 20th century, who was also part of the abstract movement. In the 1950s, in New York, when Jackson Pollock and Franz Kline were producing works linked to pure abstraction, Willem de Kooning developed the central characteristics of his works, the fusion between vivid colors and aggressive handling of painting with deconstructed images of female form. His works were often characterized as a cross between abstract, cubism and surrealism — thus influencing generations of gestural painters such as Cecily Brown. At the end of his career, he abandoned figuration and embraced lyrical abstraction and more discreet references to the body. Today, de Kooning's innovative abstractions can be found in the public collections of the Tate Modern, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, among others.
Who was Mark Rothko?
The abstract and enigmatic paintings full of rectangular fields hovering over a background made of Mark Rothko, one of the most emblematic artists of the 20th century. Deeply inspired by mythology and art history, he created an emotional and metaphysical sensation with his viewers. The characteristics of Rothko's works laid the groundwork for Color Field Painters. His works are currently exhibited at institutions such as the Museum of Modern Art, the Tate, the National Gallery of Art and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
Who was Barnett Newman?
One of the originators of Abstract Expressionism, Barnett Newman changed the course of 20th century American painting. Newman's famous color field paintings filled with brightly colored rectangles, often mono or bichromatic, convey a powerful spiritual experience, an encounter with the sublime. In addition to the color expressions, Newman created the Zip technique, where he divided the color planes with a vertical strip.
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