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 family, §1’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 ...
(b Guatemala, Jan 7, 1933).
Guatemalan painter and printmaker. From 1954 to 1957 he studied at the Escuela Nacional de Artes Plásticas in Guatemala City while researching folk art for the Dirección de Bellas Artes, but he was virtually self-taught and began as a draughtsman and painter of bullfighting scenes. In 1958 he travelled to New York on a Guatemalan government grant, prolonging his stay there with further grants, studying at the Arts Students League and Graphic Art Center, and finally settling there permanently. He was influential in Guatemala until c. 1960, but because of his long residence abroad his work did not fit easily in the context of Central American art. Before leaving Guatemala he had painted landscapes and nudes in a naturalistic style, but he soon adopted a more modern idiom partly inspired by aboriginal Guatemalan subjects. After moving to New York, and especially from 1958 to 1961, his art underwent a profound transformation as he sought to bring together elements of abstract art and Surrealism and experimented with textures, for example in cross-hatched pen-and-ink drawings such as ...
Monica E. Kupfer
(b Le Havre, Oct 19, 1938).
Panamanian painter and printmaker of French birth. He first studied with the figurative painter Alberto Dutary but established himself in the 1960s as one of the few abstract artists in Panama with paintings such as Green Force (Panama City, Mus. A. Contemp.), which attest to the influence of American Abstract Expressionism; in other works he was also influenced by Post-painterly Abstraction. During a visit to Japan in 1969 he came into contact with Japanese art and Zen Buddhism, after which he sought to achieve the maximum impact of form and colour through reduction to essentials. The techniques used in his acrylic paintings and drawings were well suited also to screenprints such as the series Form and Space (1975; Panama City, Gal. Etcétera). Alvarado was also active in organizing exhibitions for others and promoting the arts in Panama as director from 1970 to 1975 of the Departmento de Artes Plásticas of the Instituto Nacional de Cultura y Deportes....
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 ...
revised by Maria-Laura Steverlynck
(b Montevideo, Nov 6, 1902; d Montevideo, Jun 2, 1985).
Uruguayan painter. Costigliolo studied painting as part of the Bellas Artes group in Montevideo between 1921 and 1925 under the teachings of planista painters Vicente Puig (1882–1965) and Guillermo Laborde (1886–1940), followed by a period of graphic art production between 1929 and 1946. The period 1946–1950 heralded a stage of neo-purist, machinist art and abstraction, following which Costigliolo became a key figure in the development of non-figurative art in Uruguay, co-founding the Grupo de Arte No Figurativo in 1952. In 1953, during a time of economic prosperity and optimism in his country, Costigliolo entered his non-representational phase, revolutionizing and modernizing Uruguayan art along with his wife, María Freire. In the creation of innovative abstract art that embraced both national and international traditions, Costigliolo’s concrete geometric aesthetic owed a debt to, and expanded on, the work of such Uruguayan precursors as the hugely influential Joaquín Torres Garcia, as well as the ideals of Russian Constructivism and ...
(b Mexico City, Feb 9, 1893; d Mexico City, Feb 14, 1975).
Mexican sculptor, painter and decorative artist. He studied briefly at the Academia de Bellas Artes de S Carlos in Mexico City but was fundamentally self-taught. In 1925 he was associated with Estridentismo, an avant-garde literary and artistic movement with which he exhibited caricature masks painted in strong expressive colours on glossy card, for example Germán List Arzubide (1926; Mexico City, priv. col., see List Arzubide, p. 6). Between 1927 and 1932 he lived in France and Spain; he visited the studios of Brancusi, Gargallo and Lipchitz in Paris, but he was especially influenced by his contact there with Joaquín Torres García. It was during this time that he became committed to abstraction, for example in his stone carving Napoleon (1931; Mexico City, priv. col., see 1981 exh. cat., no. 1).
Cueto produced not only sculptures in a variety of materials, but also mosaics and puppets. The avant-garde aesthetics of his exclusively abstract art failed to find acceptance, however, on his return to Mexico, and he was likewise unwilling to yield to the ideologically committed art that was then dominant. Instead he continued his experimental work in a variety of techniques and materials, as in the undated ...
(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...
(b Vasto, Chietti, Oct 5, 1897; d Buenos Aires, Feb 14, 1987).
Argentine painter and sculptor of Italian birth. He lived in Argentina from 1909, becoming an Argentine citizen in 1929. In 1925 he began submitting work to national and provincial salons, and in 1926 his first one-man exhibition was held at the Asociación Amigos del Arte in Buenos Aires; the latter also awarded him a scholarship to study in Paris, where he remained until his return to Argentina in 1933.
Del Prete, who exhibited with Abstraction–Création in Paris in 1933 and was in productive contact with Hans Arp, Massimo Campigli, Georges Vantongerloo, Joaquín Torres García and Jean Hélion, is generally considered an important precursor of abstract art in Argentina. He was self-taught, intuitive, rebellious and independent and had demonstrated a receptiveness to contemporary artistic developments even before travelling to Europe. On his return to Argentina he exhibited a series of abstract plaster carvings as well as works made of wire, maquettes for stage sets and masks....
(b Mexico City, Jul 28, 1934; d Mexico City, Sept 16, 2010).
Mexican sculptor and museum director. Escobedo attended Mexico City College (now Universidad de las Américas) in 1951, where she was introduced to sculpture by the renowned abstract sculptor Germán Cueto. Awarded a traveling scholarship to the Royal College of Art, London (1951–1954), Escobedo met luminaries of European sculpture, including Henry Moore, Jacob Epstein, and Ossip Zadkine, who profoundly influenced her sense of organic integrity in form and material. It became clear to her that sculpture as museum piece or domestic ornament did not fulfill her objectives. During the 1960s and early 1970s Escobedo created works on a monumental scale and became well known for such ambitious urban sculptures as Signals (painted aluminum, h. 15 m, 1971), sited at Auckland Harbour, New Zealand, and Doors to the Wind (painted reinforced concrete, h. 17 m, 1968) at Anillo Periférico and Calzada del Hueso on the Olympic Friendship Route, Mexico. From the 1980s she directed her work towards ecological and humanitarian issues. A number of site-specific installations and performances explored the theme of the densely populated metropolis of Mexico City. While conscious of the social meaning of art, her approach was abstract and conceptual rather than overtly realist. She used natural materials, such as interwoven branches and grass, or the detritus of urban life. As a cultural promoter, she held such positions as director (1958–1982) of the museum of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, where she developed a program of exhibitions in tune with the aspirations of a new generation of writers, painters, sculptors, and filmmakers renovating the arts in Mexico and supported by the National University. She was also director (1982–1984) of the Museo de Arte Moderno where she projected the image of the museum as a place with a vision of the present and the future which meant attracting new audiences by changing the roles of the artistic system and softening the barriers between artists, spectator, and critics. The structural change in the function of art influenced her exhibition policy where she had the collaboration of young generations of artists interested in relational aesthetics....
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....