Term applied to a movement in American painting that flourished in the 1940s and 1950s, sometimes referred to as the New York School or, very narrowly, as Action painting, although it was first coined in relation to the work of Vasily Kandinsky in 1929. The works of the generation of artists active in New York from the 1940s and regarded as Abstract Expressionists resist definition as a cohesive style; they range from Barnett Newman’s unbroken fields of colour to De Kooning, Willem’s violent handling of the figure. They were linked by a concern with varying degrees of abstraction used to convey strong emotional or expressive content. Although the term primarily denotes a small nucleus of painters, Abstract Expressionist qualities can also be seen in the sculpture of David Smith, Ibram Lassaw and others, the photography of Aaron Siskind and the painting of Mark Tobey, as well as in the work of less renowned artists such as ...
Ilene Susan Fort
American group of painters and sculptors formed in 1936 in New York. Their aim was to promote American abstract art. Similar to the Abstraction–Création group in Europe, this association introduced the public to American abstraction through annual exhibitions, publications and lectures. It also acted as a forum for abstract artists to share ideas. The group, whose first exhibition was held in April 1937 at the Squibb Galleries in New York, insisted that art should be divorced from political or social issues. Its aesthetics were usually identified with synthetic Cubism, and the majority of its members worked in a geometric Cubist-derived idiom of hard-edged forms, applying flat, strong colours. While the group officially rejected Expressionism and Surrealism, its members actually painted in a number of abstract styles. Almost half of the founding members had studied with Hans Hoffmann and infused their geometric styles with surreal, biomorphic forms, while others experimented with ...
Kenneth W. Prescott
(b Erie, PA, May 23, 1930).
American painter, printmaker and sculptor. He trained at the Cleveland Institute of Art in Cleveland, OH (1948–53), and under Albers family, §1 at the Yale University School of Art and Architecture in New Haven, CT (1953–5). In his paintings of the late 1940s and early 1950s he depicted everyday city life, as in The Bridge (1950; artist’s priv. col., see Lunde, pl. 66). In 1957 he moved to New York, where from 1957 to 1958 he worked as a conservator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and from 1959 to 1961 as a silver designer for Tiffany and Co. During this period he began to produce abstract paintings, using either organic or geometric repeated forms, as in Winter Recipe (1958; New York, Mr and Mrs David Evins priv. col., see Lunde, pl. 100). These led in the early 1960s to asymmetric and imperfectly geometric works, such as ...
Robert Saltonstall Mattison
(b Pittsburgh, PA, June 11, 1912; d New York, June 6, 1963).
American painter. Baziotes was brought up in Reading, PA, by his Greek immigrant parents. When his father’s business failed in the mid-1920s, he was exposed to poverty and the life of illegal gambling dens and local brothels, all of which later contributed to the spirit of evil lurking in his paintings. In the early 1930s he worked briefly for a company specializing in stained glass for churches, which may have affected the mysterious and translucent painted environments in his later canvases. His early interest in poetry was heightened by his close friendship with the Reading poet Byron Vazakas, who introduced him to the work of Charles-Pierre Baudelaire and the French Symbolists; these writers soon became an important source for Baziotes’s own search to communicate strong emotions and bizarre states of mind. Themes from Baudelaire’s poetry are suggested in Baziotes’s treatment of twilight, water, the colour green and mirrors, while The Balcony...
(b Neosho, MO, April 15, 1889; d Kansas City, MO, Jan 19, 1975).
American painter, illustrator, and lithographer. One of the most controversial personalities in American art, both in his lifetime and today, Thomas Hart Benton was a key figure in the American Regionalist movement of the 1930s, when he focused on working-class American subject-matter and was outspoken in his denunciation of European modern painting. Today he is best remembered for this phase of his life, and much criticized because of it. But Benton’s long career is not easily reduced to a single moment or achievement: his legacy was more complex. As a young struggling artist in Paris and New York, he was a leading American modernist and abstractionist, and in his early maturity he became the teacher and lifelong father figure for Jackson Pollock, the most famous of the Abstract Expressionists. He was also a major American writer, who wrote on art and whose autobiography of 1936 became a best-seller. He was also a notable figure in American music who collected American folk songs and devised a new form of harmonica notation that is still in use....
Roy R. Behrens
(b Cleveland, OH, Aug 23, 1906; d Red Wing, MN, Dec 26, 2004).
American painter and theorist. Biederman worked as a graphic designer for several years before studying art at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago from 1926 to 1929. A week after his arrival he saw a painting by Cézanne that greatly influenced his subsequent thought. He lived in New York from 1934 to 1940, except for a nine-month period in 1936–7 when he lived in Paris. He began to make reliefs in 1934. His visits in Paris to the studios of Mondrian, Georges Vantongerloo, César Domela and Antoine Pevsner made him aware of De Stijl, Neo-Plasticism, Abstraction-Création and Constructivism. He also met Léger, Miró, Arp, Kandinsky, Robert Delaunay, Alberto Giacometti, Picasso and Brancusi.
Shortly before returning to New York in 1938, Biederman made his first abstract reliefs, which he termed ‘non-mimetic’ (e.g. New York, Number 18, 1938; New York, Met.). In the same year, while visiting Chicago, he attended a seminar given by the Polish-born writer Alfred Korzybski, founder of the General Semantics Institute, which strongly influenced his later theories about history as an evolutionary process. He moved to Red Wing, near Minneapolis, MN, in ...
(b Croydon, London, March 31, 1888; d Toronto, March 21, 1955).
Canadian painter, critic and writer of English birth. He emigrated in 1905 to Portage la Prairie, Manitoba. In 1921 he moved to Toronto to work as an editor and publisher. He is best known as a pioneer of abstract painting in Canada. His show (1927) at Toronto’s Arts & Letters Club was the first solo exhibition of abstract art by a Canadian artist. His early work is characterized by the bold non-objective imagery seen in the complex Sounds Assembling (1928; Winnipeg, A.G.). After 1930 he reassessed his artistic direction: he turned first to figurative imagery (e.g. Torso, 1937; Ottawa, N.G.) and then looking to Cubism he re-examined the nature of abstraction in his painting, without returning to the non-objectivity of his earlier work. Between 1926 and 1930 Brooker wrote ‘The Seven Arts’, a syndicated column of art criticism for the Southam Press. In addition, he edited The Yearbook of the Arts in Canada...
(b New Orleans, LA, May 6, 1926).
African American painter. Edward Clark experienced the excitement of being part of the younger generation of Abstract Expressionists and over a period of 50 years built up a solid body of work that has made something both unique and original out of his commitment to Jackson Pollock’s (1912–56) principles of action and spontaneity.
Born in New Orleans in 1926, Clark grew up in Chicago and, after studying at the Chicago Art Institute, took advantage of the GI Bill and went to Paris. There, he enrolled in the Académie de la Grande Chaumière in 1951 and by 1952 came under the influence of Paul Cézanne (1839–1906) and of Cubism. In 1954, the American Center for Students and Artists became interested in the artistic activity in Montparnasse studios and presented an exhibition titled Grandes Toiles de Montparnasse, in which Clark participated and was described in a review in ...
(b Philadelphia, Dec 7, 1892; d New York, June 24, 1964).
American painter and printmaker (see fig.). He was born into an artistic family: his parents studied with Thomas Anshutz at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, and his father was the art editor at the Philadelphia Press, a newspaper that included among its employees the Robert Henri circle of artist–reporters. Davis studied art under Henri in New York between 1909 and 1912. His earliest works, which chronicle urban life in the streets, saloons and theatres, are painted with the dark palette and thickly applied brushstrokes typical of the Ashcan school style inspired by Henri. Davis also published illustrations in the left-wing magazine The Masses between 1913 and 1916, and in The Liberator, which succeeded it in the 1920s.
With his contribution of five watercolours Davis was one of the youngest exhibitors at the Armory Show, the international exhibition of modern art that opened in New York in 1913...
The term ‘expressionism’ refers in general to the deliberate distortion and exaggeration of forms for expressive effect in artworks. It may also be used with reference to particular historical or cultural iterations—as in (most commonly) German Expressionism, which refers to specific artists and practices of the early 20th century (see Expressionism). Both approaches are useful in the context of American art history. For example, the expressive qualities of the work of such 19th-century artists as Albert Pinkham Ryder or George Inness have long been noted in histories of American art and artists. Attention has focused as well on groups of artists active at mid-century in America’s urban centres who adopted the term as a conscious description of themselves and their intentions.
Prior to 1914 Expressionism was understood more or less to be a synonym of Post-Impressionism, the somewhat ambiguous name coined by British art historian Roger Fry to describe a group of mostly French artists including Paul Cézanne, Vincent van Gogh, and Paul Gauguin. In the context of an early appearance in a ...
Marshall N. Price
[Ferren, Millard James]
(b Pendleton, OR, Oct 17, 1905; d Southampton, NY, July 25, 1970).
American painter. Born Millard James Ferren, following high school in Los Angeles, Ferren took the first name John and moved to San Francisco where he learned stonecarving, worked as a telephone engineer and had contact with modernist artists such as Yun Gee and Rinaldo Cuneo (1877–1939). He initially worked as a sculptor but soon began painting. Ferren traveled to Europe twice as a young man, first in 1929 and then later from 1931 to 1938, residing in Paris and Mallorca, Spain. While in Europe he studied at the académies Colorossi and Ronson, as well as the Sorbonne and the universities of Florence, Italy, and Salamanca, Spain. In Paris he became friendly with artists who were codifying the language of abstract art such as Piet (er Cornelis) Mondrian, Jean Hélion, Joaquín Torres García (1874–1949) and S(tanley) W(illiam) Hayter, among others. Ferren played a role in bringing this language to America, first as part of the exhibition ...
(b New York, May 30, 1931).
American painter, draughtswoman and sculptor. She studied at Yale University, New Haven, CT (1952) and at the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University (1953), where she was influenced by Abstract Expressionism. Her first solo exhibition was in 1959 at the Roko Gallery, New York. In the early 1970s, in her first mature works, she drew on family-album photographs and then photographs from magazines of public figures. Her concern for prevailing feminist issues was revealed in the well-known Gray Border series (1975–6), in which she concentrated on several feminized still-lifes painted in a Photorealist style. In large-scale paintings she manipulated stereotypes of art and femininity. A luminous spatial maze of intricately ordered objects appears in such works as Leonardo’s Lady (1.88×2.03 m, 1975; New York, MOMA), in which a perfect pink rose, an art-historical treatise, lipstick, a Baroque-style statuette of a Cupid, costume jewellery, nail-varnish and other equally lustrous objects float above a picture plane that is never clearly defined. From the early 1980s Flack made large-scale indoor and outdoor sculptures based on female deities, imaginary and Classical. Examples of her work are in numerous private and public collections, notably the Australian National Gallery, Canberra, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, DC....
(b New York, April 1, 1933; d Riverhead, NY, Nov 29, 1996).
American installation artist and painter. His father intended him to become a priest and from 1947 to 1952 he attended a seminary in Brooklyn, New York. In 1954 he studied at the University of Maryland Extension Program in Osan-Ni in Korea and in 1956 at the New College for Social Research in New York. He continued these art history studies in 1957–9 at Columbia University, New York, but was self-taught as an artist. His early work of the late 1950s and early 1960s was influenced by contemporary American art and included paintings with added objects.
By 1961 Flavin had begun to make Minimalist works using incandescent or fluorescent electric lights, such as Icon I (1961; see 1969 exh. cat., p. 125), which consisted of a monochrome painted wooden square with a fluorescent light mounted on the top edge. He frequently dedicated pieces to historic and contemporary art figures who inspired him. A series of ‘monuments’ dedicated to Russian Constructivist Vladimir Tatlin extended this technique into what became his mature style: installations, usually temporary, using white or coloured fluorescent light tubes (...
(b San Mateo, CA, June 25, 1923; d Santa Monica, CA, Nov 4, 1994).
American painter and printmaker. Following an accident leading to spinal tuberculosis while serving in the US Army Air Corps, he started to paint for distraction in 1944, studying privately under David Park in 1947. He subsequently relinquished his earlier medical studies in favour of painting, completing his BA (1949) and MA (1950) at the University of California at Berkeley. During this period he experimented with different styles of painting, notably Surrealism and the Abstract Expressionism of Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko and particularly Clyfford Still. His own style emerged in 1949–50; in Opposites (1950; Tokyo, Idemitsu Mus. A.), for example, dripping, corpuscular shapes painted in fluid red circulate freely around the canvas, indicating what was to become a perennial concern with ‘ceaseless instability’. With its sensitivity to sensuous colour and light, Francis’s work was already showing very different concerns from the expressive iconography and energy of many of the Abstract Expressionists....
(b San Mateo, CA, June 25, 1923; d Santa Monica, CA, Nov 4, 1994).
American painter and printmaker. Following an accident leading to spinal tuberculosis while serving in the US Army Air Corps, Francis started to paint for distraction in 1944, studying privately under David Park in 1947. He subsequently relinquished his earlier medical studies in favor of painting, completing his BA (1949) and MA (1950) at the University of California at Berkeley. During this period he experimented with different styles of painting, notably Surrealism and the Abstract Expressionism of Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko and particularly Clyfford Still. His own style emerged in 1949–50; in Opposites (1950; Tokyo, Idemitsu Mus. A.), for example, dripping, corpuscular shapes painted in fluid red circulate freely around the canvas, indicating what was to become a perennial concern with “ceaseless instability.” With its sensitivity to sensuous color and light, Francis’s work was already showing very different concerns from the expressive iconography and energy of many of the Abstract Expressionists....
Colin C. Sanderson
[Pevzner, Naum (Borisovich)]
(b Klimovichi, Belarus, Aug 5, 1890; d Waterbury, CT, Aug 23, 1977).
American sculptor of Belorussian birth. He was brought up in the Russian town of Bryansk, where his father owned a metallurgy business. Early paintings display his romantic and literary spirit, for example Self-portrait (c. 1907–10; artist’s family priv. col., see 1986 exh. cat., pl. 128), but in 1910 he went to the University of Munich to study medical and scientific subjects (1910–12), then philosophy and history of art (1912–14). The lectures of Heinrich Wölfflin and the writings of Henri Bergson were significant influences on him at this time. Gabo also studied engineering at the Technische Hochschule, Munich (1912–14), where there was a large collection of mathematical models. During World War I he took refuge in Norway (1914–17) and started working with his ‘stereometric method’ of construction, one of several techniques he adopted from such models, and through which he made a significant contribution to the development of the language of ...
Nancy J. Troy
(b Zurich, July 20, 1899; d Locarno, Sept 18, 1972).
American painter of Swiss birth. Brought up in France and Italy, he studied at the Regio Istituto di Belle Arti in Naples from 1914 to 1920. Three years later he moved to Paris, where he studied at the Académie Colarossi intermittently between 1924 and 1926 and became acquainted with modernist artists, including Hans Arp, Sophie Taeuber-Arp, Alexander Calder, Theo van Doesburg, Jean Hélion, Fernand Léger, Piet Mondrian and Georges Vantongerloo. During the late 1920s and 1930s Glarner’s work consisted largely of semi-abstract still-lifes and interior scenes such as Painting (1937; Zurich, Ksthaus), in which flat, hard-edged areas of colour are used to indicate the simplified forms of a table in the corner of a room. Although right angles predominate, a limited number of diagonal edges and overlapping forms serve to establish a sense of spatial recession and indicate the naturalistic origin of the imagery.
Glarner married Louise Powell, an American, in ...
[Adoian, Vosdanig Manoog]
(b Dzov, Turkish Armenia, April 15, 1904; d Sherman, CT, July 21, 1948).
American painter of Armenian birth. One of the most illustrious artists of the post-war New York School, he began his life in possibly the most obscure circumstances of any international modern master. His father emigrated to the USA to avoid conscription into the Turkish Army in World War I; in the Turkish persecution of the Armenians, Gorky’s mother died in her son’s arms after a 120-mile march. With his sister (who later figured prominently in his paintings) Gorky made his way to the coast and then, by ship, to the USA, arriving at New York in April 1920.
Gorky settled into a community of Armenians in New England and attempted a reconciliation with his father, but when that failed he moved from Massachusetts to New York City (c. 1925). There he assumed his pseudonym, claiming to be a cousin of the Russian writer, Maksim Gor’ky whose name, however, was a ...
(b New York, March 14, 1903; d Easthampton, NY, March 4, 1974).
American painter and sculptor. One of the few members of the New York School born in New York, Gottlieb studied at the Art Students League under Robert Henri and John Sloan in 1920–21. His teachers communicated a dark brushy approach to painting that, although highly unfashionable at a time when Cubism ruled modernity, nevertheless established the defining characteristics of what became Abstract Expressionism. The next year Gottlieb travelled through France and Germany, studying at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière, Paris, schooling that may have re-enforced an otherwise reactionary approach to painting. Following his return to New York in 1923, he attended the Parsons School of Design and Cooper Union Institute. The most widely travelled of the New York painters (rivalled only by Franz Kline), having been to Paris, Munich, and Berlin before even beginning advanced formal studies, Gottlieb was the least provincial of his colleagues. The breadth of his training and art-historical knowledge served him well in his own teaching, his principal means of support during the mid-1930s. His first one-man exhibition was in ...
(b Bronx, NY, Jan 16, 1909; d New York, NY, May 7, 1994).
American critic. He studied at the Art Students League in New York (1924–5) and obtained his BA from Syracuse University (1930). He began his writing career while working as a clerk for US Customs, with frequent contributions to Partisan Review on politics, literature, and art. From 1940 to 1943 he was an editor of that journal and from 1942 to 1949 was a regular art critic for Nation. Greenberg came to prominence as the most articulate early proponent of such Abstract Expressionist painters as Jackson Pollock, Adolph Gottlieb, and Hans Hofmann, and of the sculptor David Smith. Greenberg’s exhibition, Post Painterly Abstraction (1964), championed a second generation of American and Canadian abstract painters such as Jack Bush, Helen Frankenthaler, Morris Louis, Kenneth Noland, and Jules Olitski. He defined their work in Heinrich Wölfflin’s stylistic terms of ‘openness’ and linear clarity, arguing it was ‘fresh’ as the equally linear-style Pop art was not. In one of his last important articles, ‘Counter-avant-garde’ (...