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Abstract Expressionism

The United States of America wanted to redefine itself culturally after it's victory in WWII. Riding on the back of Modernism, New York in the 1940's and 1950's became the cultural capital of painting (and arguably, Modern Art as a whole).

The Cold War was a significant factor in the development of Abstract Expressionism. Even the CIA encouraged the development of a new style of art in America that celebrated the Individual.

A critic, Clement Greenberg, was probably the most critical figure in this creation of this new movement which became known as Abstract Expressionism. Ironically, most of the leading painters in the core of this movement were actually European, but it was seen (or at least, marketed) as a uniquely American movement.

Time Magazine was looking for a painter to feature in an article about this new movement, and they decided upon a painter who had started out painting in the Cubist sytle but who had recently changed his style to 'drip paintings':

Action Painting

A style of abstract painting that uses techniques such as the dribbling or splashing of paint to achieve a spontaneous effect. In Action Painting the canvas is the arena in which the artist acts. The action of painting becomes a moment in the biography of the artist -- the canvas becomes the record of the event. Most associated with several of the Abstract Expressionist artists, including Willem De Kooning (Dutch, 1904-1997, active in the US) and Jackson Pollock (American, 1912-1956), though not all Abstract Expressionists were Action Painters. artlex.com/ArtLex/a/actionpainting.html

Jackson Pollock (1912-1956)

Trapped in his own cliche, "Jack the Dripper" was not the first person to paint by gloobing drips on a canvas on the floor - nor did he come to the idea himself. Pollock was known to have seen the works by Janet Sobel before experimenting and perfecting the technique himself. His type of Abstract Expressionism was known as Action Painting. His self-destructive personality, heavy drinking and the sheer rage that showed in his works added to the mytique, the romantic 'wild man' myth of Pollock. If you're interested in seeing a Hollywood film featuring Abstract Expressionism, rent the movie "Pollock" from Planet Video or another good video store.
Google Image Search for Pollock

Willem de Kooning (1904-1997)

Dutch-born De Kooning's thickly-painted works were sometimes more figurative than other Abstract Expressionists. I can't help but think he didn't like women much.
Google Image Search for Kooning

Color Field Painting

Colour field painting is a form of Abstract Expressionism, created by artists concerned with the lyrical or emotional effects of large ‘fields’ of colour. As with most Abstract Expressionist works, the paintings are often large in scale and feature solid areas of colour, covering sizable areas of the canvas surface. The intention is that these paintings should be viewed up close, so that the viewer is immersed in a colour environment. numasters.com/resources/

Mark Rothko (1903-70)

Another tragic figure of Abstract Expressionism, Mark Rothko made haunting, luminescent rectangles and bands of colour on his canvases. His later works became progressively darker until his final works were completely black, such as those in the Rothko Chapel. He committed suicide in 1970. His style of Abstract Expressionism is known as Color Field Painting. www.the-artists.org/MovementView

"His work on the Rothko Chapel paintings, originally commissioned by John and Dominique de Menil for the University of St. Thomas in Houston, Texas, occupied Rothko between 1964 and 1967. In turning away from the radiance of the previous decade, Rothko heightened the perceptual subtlety of his paintings, making distinctions between shape and ground more difficult to discern. He also transformed the impact his canvases have on the experience of space, which is now characterized by a sensation of enclosure. This quality, which lends itself to meditation, can be clearly related to the spiritual nature of a chapel." nga.gov/feature/rothko/rothkosplash.html

A comprehensive list of Pop Artists can be seen at: fi.muni.cz/~toms/PopArt/contents.html

Pop Art

Pop Art had it's roots in London in the Swinging Sixties. Richard Hamilton's collage "Just What Is It That Makes Today's Homes So Different, So Appealing" is credited with giving the name "Pop Art" to this new Movement. The Movement was quickly appropriated by the Americans and perfected by Andy Warhol, who saw it as the perfect synthesis of culture and economics.

The English critic Lawrence Alloway coined the term "Pop Art" and British artist Richard Hamilton drew up the now-famous list of Pop art's identifying characteristics:

  • POPULAR (designed for mass audience)
  • TRANSIENT (short-term solution)
  • EXPENDABLE (easily forgotten)
  • YOUNG (aimed at youth)
  • SEXY


David Hockney (1937-still living)

English-born LA resident David Hockney does not accept the label of 'Pop Artist', although this is the category into which he best fits. His work ranges from collages of photographs stuck together to his stark paintings of splashes in swimming pools.
Google Image Search for Hockney


Andy Warhol (1928-1987)

"Andy Warhol began as a commercial illustrator, and a very successful one, doing jobs like shoe ads for I. Miller in a stylish blotty line that derived from Ben Shahn.

He first exhibited in an art gallery in 1962, when the Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles showed his 32 Campbell's Soup Cans, 1961-62. From then on, most of Warhol's best work was done over a span of about six years, finishing in 1968, when he was shot. And it all flowed from one central insight: that in a culture glutted with information, where most people experience most things at second or third hand through TV and print, through images that become banal and disassociated by repeated again and again and again, there is role for affectless art.

You no longer need to be hot and full of feeling. You can be supercool, like a slightly frosted mirror. Not that Warhol worked this out; he didn't have to. He felt it and embodied it. He was a conduit for a sort of collective American state of mind in which celebrity - the famous image of a person, the famous brand name - had completely replaced both sacredness and solidity". artchive.com/artchive/W/warhol.html


Roy Lichtenstein (1923 - 1997)

Lichtenstein blew up pictures from comic books and then painted them in meticulous detail, by dotting the paint to mimick the printing process.

"Roy Lichtenstein was the master of the stereotype, and the most sophisticated of the major Pop artists in terms of his analysis of visual convention and his ironic exploitation of past styles. The work for which he is now known was the product of a long apprenticeship." artchive.com/artchive/L/lichtenstein.html

Robert Rauschenberg (1925-still living)

Creator of "Combines" - three dimensional multimedia works created by juxtaposing found objects and paint. His "Combines" remind me of the Dada/Merz artist Kurt Schwitters. Sometimes Rauschenberg is counted as an Abstract Expressionist, although his strengths as an artist came to the fore in the Pop Art period. Today, he is still an important artist working much of the time on giant collaged monoprints. His work is hugely varied, and he constantly experiments with new media.

Jasper Johns (1930-still living)

Best known for his paintings of the US Flag in a technique known as "encaustic" (made by melting wax)

Google Image Search for Jasper Johns


Op (Optical) Art

"Optical Art is a mathematically-oriented form of (usually) Abstract art, which uses repetition of simple forms and colors to create vibrating effects, moiré patterns, an exaggerated sense of depth, foreground-background confusion, and other visual effects.

In a sense all painting is based on tricks of visual perception: using rules of perspective to give the illusion of three-dimensional space, mixing colors to give the impression of light and shadow, and so on. With Optical Art, the rules that the eye applies to makes sense of a visual image are themselves the "subject" of the artwork".

Bridget Riley (1931- still living)

"Bridget Riley is one of the finest exponents of Op Art, with her subtle variations in size, shape and position of blocks within the overall pattern. Her work is characterised by its intensity and its often disorientating effect. Indeed the term 'Riley sensation' was coined to describe this effect of looking at the paintings, especially her early black and white pictures. Riley is fascinated with the act of looking and in her work aims to engage the viewer not only with the object of their gaze but also with the actual process of observation". articons.co.uk/riley.htm

retrokat.com quite nice sites

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