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Article

David Anfam

Term applied to the work of American Abstract Expressionists such as Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning and, by extension, to the art of their followers at home and abroad during the 1950s. An alternative but slightly more general term is gestural painting; the other division within Abstract Expressionism was colour field painting.

The critic Harold Rosenberg defined action painting in an article, ‘The American Action Painters’ (1952), where he wrote: ‘At a certain moment the canvas began to appear to one American painter after another as an arena in which to act. …What was to go on canvas was not a picture but an event’. This proposition drew heavily, and perhaps crudely, upon ideas then current in intellectual circles, especially in the wake of Jean-Paul Sartre’s essay L’Existentialisme est un humanisme (Paris, 1946; Eng. trans., 1948), which claimed that ‘there is no reality except in action’. In the 1940s Herbert Ferber, Barnett Newman and others had already characterized their creative process in similar terms; Rosenberg was probably also inspired by photographs of Pollock at work (rather than the actual paintings) that emphasized his apparent psychological freedom and physical engagement with materials (e.g. ...

Article

Barbara Haskell

(b Sand Bank [now Altmar], NY, March 7, 1885; d New York, Jan 3, 1965).

American painter and printmaker. Avery spent his childhood in Hartford, CT, where he remained until 1925, attending art school from 1911 to 1919 and thereafter painting in the surrounding countryside. His works from this period are characterized by shiny, enamel-like surfaces, created by applying colours with brushes and a palette knife and blending them with his fingers. After marrying and moving to New York in 1925, he replaced the light-drenched palette of his Hartford paintings with sombre tones. He also stopped using an impastoed, palette-knife technique and began to brush pigment on his canvases in thin layers. His figurative and genre subjects resembled those of the realists, but his technique of dispensing with illusionistically modelled shapes in favour of simplified forms and flat colours derived from European artists such as Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso (e.g. Harbour at Night, 1932; Washington, DC, Phillips Col. and The Steeplechase, Coney Island, 1929...

Article

Matico Josephson

(b Lithuania, 1920; d New York, March 6, 1998).

American painter and teacher of Lithuanian birth. Baranik migrated to the United States in 1938 and served in the US Army in World War II. He studied at the Art Institute of Chicago (1946–8) and at the Art Students League in New York, where he met painter May Stevens, whom he later married. Stevens and Baranik lived in Paris from 1948 until the end of 1951, initially studying at the Académie Julian; Baranik then studied in the atelier of Fernand Léger (1881–1955).

In 1952, Baranik first showed at the ACA Gallery in New York, which represented prewar realist school painters. He left the gallery in 1955, joining the Roko Gallery by 1958. Through contact with the Abstract Expressionists, and especially with fellow Lithuanian Ad Reinhardt (1913–67), Baranik moved away from the rough materiality of his Parisian work. In the 1960s, figural elements appear on large canvases that he treated like color field paintings....

Article

Judith Zilczer

Term applied to a group of American artists active in San Francisco from 1950 to the mid-1960s who forged a vibrant brand of figurative expressionism. Originating in the studios and art schools of postwar San Francisco, the movement transcended its regional identity to attain national recognition as a major trend in mid-20th-century American art.

Around 1950, painters David Park, Elmer Bischoff, Richard Diebenkorn and James Weeks (1922–98) adapted the gestural style and painterly techniques of Abstract Expressionism to create luminous canvases devoted to recognizable subjects including genre scenes, figure paintings and the local landscape of the Bay Area. These four “founders” were soon joined by slightly younger artists—Nathan Oliveira, Paul Wonner (1920–2008) and Theophilus Brown (b 1919), as well as former students Joan Brown (1938–90), Bruce McGaw (b 1935) and the lone sculptor, Manuel Neri (b 1930). Although Park and his fellow artists would deny they had created a new movement, their shared sensibilities resulted in the cohesive style and widespread influence of the Bay Area Figurative school....

Article

Corinne Robins

(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 ...

Article

David Anfam

Term referring to the work of such Abstract Expressionists as Barnett Newman, Mark Rothko, and Clyfford Still and to various subsequent American painters, including Morris Louis, Kenneth Noland, Frank Stella, Jules Olitski, and Helen Frankenthaler. The popularity of the concept stemmed largely from Clement Greenberg’s formalist art criticism, especially his essay ‘American-type Painting’, written in 1955 for Partisan Review, which implied that Still, Newman, and Rothko had consummated a tendency in modernist painting to apply colour in large areas or ‘fields’. This notion became increasingly widespread and doctrinaire in later interpretations of Abstract Expressionism, until the movement was effectively divided into ‘gesturalist’ and ‘colour field’ styles despite the narrow and somewhat misleading overtones of each category.

Among the main characteristics of Abstract Expressionist colour field painting are its use of hues close in tonal value and intensity, its radically simplified compositions, and the choice of very large formats. From the later 1950s ...

Article

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 ...

Article

Anne K. Swartz

(b Philadelphia, PA, Jan 14, 1939).

American painter. Fishman is an abstract painter who came of age at the end of the 1960s when Abstract Expressionism was the dominant mode of painting and the Women’s Movement was gaining momentum. She attended the Philadelphia College of Art, and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, eventually receiving her BFA and BS degree from Tyler School of Fine Arts. There she received two senior prizes—the First Painting Prize, Student Exhibit, Tyler School of Art, and the Bertha Lowenberg Prize for the Senior Woman to Excel in Art (1963). She went on to receive her MFA from University of Illinois in Champaign (1965); that same year, she relocated to New York City. She received numerous grants and fellowships, including National Endowment for the Arts grants (1975–6; 1983–4; 1994); a Guggenheim Fellowship in Painting (1979); a fellowship to the MacDowell Colony in New Hampshire (...

Article

Anna Moszynska

(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....

Article

Christopher Brookeman

(b New York, Dec 12, 1928; d Darien, CT, Dec 27, 2011).

American painter and printmaker. Frankenthaler studied with Rufino Tamayo while at Dalton School, New York, with Paul Feeley (1910–66) at Bennington College, VT (1946–9), and privately with Wallace Harrison in 1949 and Hans Hofmann in 1950. In that year she met Clement Greenberg, David Smith, Jackson Pollock, Lee Krasner, Willem de Kooning and others. Like several of the exponents of Abstract Expressionism she was concerned with the forms and energies latent in nature. In the mythology of technical breakthrough that was part of the culture of the New York School, her work Mountains and Sea (1952; artist’s col.) has an established place. Extending Pollock’s method of painting on unprimed canvases on the floor, she allowed thinner pigments to soak directly into the canvas. This created a closer relationship between image and surface, the weave of the raw canvas being visible within the painted image. At the same time the visibility of the canvas beneath the painted surface negated the sense of illusion and depth. It was a device that called attention to both the material and the nature of the medium. The technique also generated a new range of liquid-like atmospheric effects reminiscent of the watercolours of John Marin. Morris Louis and Kenneth Noland, the leading figures of a group sometimes known as the ...

Article

(b Cortland, NY, Oct 23, 1917; d White Plains, NY, Oct 2, 2010).

American painter. From 1936 to 1940 he studied at Syracuse University, NY, and he was then drafted into the army. On being discharged he settled in New York in 1946 and attended the Amédée Ozenfant School of Fine Arts. The following year he studied with Hans Hofmann, meeting painters such as Larry Rivers and Alfred Leslie, as well as Clement Greenberg. From 1947 to 1950 he studied for an MA in art education at New York University and from 1948 to 1949 was one of a number of abstract artists who formed the core of Abstract Expressionism. In 1952 he had his first one-man show at the Tibor de Nagy Galleries in Los Angeles. His work of the early 1950s was abstract and spontaneous in appearance, though sometimes with a figurative base, as in Pegasus (1952; Mr and Mrs B. F. Friedman priv. col., see Guest and Friedman, p. 9). From ...

Article

Harry Rand

[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 ...

Article

Harry Rand

(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 ...

Article

Ken Carpenter

(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’ (...

Article

David M. Sokol

(b Rye, NY, July 14, 1920; d New York, July 13, 1978).

American writer and art critic. After graduating from Yale University, New Haven, CT, and starting a career as a writer, he worked as an associate editor of ARTnews (1946–50). He also acted as a managing editor from 1950 to 1965 and as an executive editor from 1965 to 1972. From 1972 until his death he was art critic of the newly founded New York Magazine, also writing freelance for other magazines and journals, including Saturday Review, Encounter, New York Times and Museum Journal.

Hess served as a major critic and tastemaker, with particular interest in and impact on the acceptance of Abstract Expressionism; he wrote books and catalogues for MOMA, New York. He was a major supporter of Willem de Kooning, the subject of his first monograph and of a major exhibition organized by Hess at MOMA in 1968. Hess was also active in several arts organizations and was president of the Longview Foundation in Longview, Texas....

Article

Cynthia Goodman

(Georg Albert)

(b Weissenberg, Bavaria, March 21, 1880; d New York, Feb 17, 1966).

American painter, teacher and theorist of German birth. He moved with his family to Munich in 1886 and in 1896 left home to become assistant to the director of public works of the State of Bavaria; he distinguished himself with a number of inventions, including an electromagnetic comptometer, a radar device for ships, a sensitized light bulb and a portable freezer unit for military purposes. In spite of his parents’ strong objection and their hopes for his career as a scientist, in 1898 he enrolled in the art school run by Moritz Heymann (b 1870) in Munich. Hofmann subsequently studied with a succession of teachers and was particularly influenced by Willi Schwarz (b 1889), who familiarized him with French Impressionism, a style that affected his earliest known paintings, such as Self-portrait (1902; New York, Emmerich Gal., see Goodman, 1986, p. 14).

In 1903 Hofmann was introduced by Schwarz to ...

Article

Burt Chernow

(b Minneapolis, MN, Jan 27, 1919; d Westhampton, NY, May 30, 2010).

American painter. He studied at the Minneapolis Institute School of Art, the St Paul Art School and the Art Institute of Chicago (1942–7). He moved to New York in 1947 and supported his painting with a variety of part-time jobs. He also studied with Hans Hofmann and shared a studio first with Larry Rivers and then with Philip Pearlstein. Despite his figurative work, Johnson was voted into the 8th Street ‘Club’. It met weekly, providing artists with a stimulating forum for exchanging ideas. Johnson’s unpopular but complete commitment to the figure helped enlarge the scope of Abstract Expressionism. His early works depicting men, alone or in groups, were first and foremost paintings, full of all the freedom and action to be found in the best works produced at the time. Using sombre colours, these thickly painted compositions are packed with actions and counteractions, pushing and pulling, oscillating on a flattened picture plane (e.g. ...

Article

David Anfam

(Rowe)

(b Wilkes-Barre, PA, May 23, 1910; d New York, May 13, 1962).

American painter. His first academic training was at Boston University from 1931 to 1935 and in London at the Heatherley School of Art from 1937 to 1938 as an illustrator and draughtsman. Two main tendencies emerged at an early stage that would later develop into a powerful contribution to the ‘gestural’ trend within Abstract Expressionism. Numerous small graphics, sketches, and oils and the mural series Hot Jazz (Norfolk, VA, Chrysler Mus.), painted for a New York bar in 1940, reveal an interest in translating animated subjects into quick, rudimentary strokes. Kline admired and found inspiration in a wide range of artists notable for their fluency in handling paint, including Rembrandt, Goya, Manet, Sargent, and Whistler. By contrast, an inclination to compose in terms of simplified areas was derived from academic training and perhaps also reflected Kline’s memories of his native Pennsylvania’s coal-mining region, with its stark scenery, locomotives, and similar massive mechanical shapes, to which the titles of his later abstract images sometimes referred. ...

Article

Ellen G. Landau

[Krassner, Lenore]

(b New York, Oct 27, 1908; d New York, June 19, 1984).

American painter. She decided at an early stage to become an artist, and in 1926 she enrolled at the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Art and Science in Manhattan. In 1928 she transferred to the National Academy of Design, and although her tenure there was unpromising (her teachers considered her incorrigible), she painted her first important work there, a forthright and psychologically revealing Self-portrait (1930; artist’s estate, see 1965 exh. cat., no. 1). Due to the Depression she was forced to work at menial jobs by day and attend art classes at night. In the early 1930s she experimented with the prevalent style of social realism and the enigmatic imagery of Giorgio De Chirico and Joan Miró, but it was not until 1937, when she entered the Hans Hofmann School of Fine Arts, that she found an environment in which her art could flourish. Immediately grasping the most radical tenets of Fauvism, Cubism and Hofmann’s own theories, she began to create powerful abstract still-lifes (e.g. ...

Article

Joan Marter

(b Alexandria, Egypt, May 4, 1913; d Easthampton, NY, Dec 30, 2003).

American sculptor. Lassaw’s parents were Russian, but he spent his childhood in Egypt, where he attended a French lycée. In 1921 he immigrated with his family to New York, where he began his artistic training with traditional clay modelling at the Brooklyn Children’s Museum and in 1927 at the Clay Club. In 1931–2 he attended evening classes at the Beaux-Arts Institute of Design. After modelling clay figures, in 1933 he turned to abstract sculpture, and was among the first American sculptors to do so in the 1930s. Early open-space constructions such as Sculpture in Steel (1938; New York, Whitney) combine biomorphic elements with Constructivist methods. The leaflike elements suspended from a metal bar seem indebted to Alberto Giacometti’s Surrealist sculptures of the 1930s.

Lassaw studied the welded constructions of Julio González and Pablo Picasso, which were illustrated in French periodicals, and he was attracted to their openwork compositions in industrial metals. While Lassaw’s earliest constructions were made of reinforced plaster on pipe and wire armatures, by ...