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 ...
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. ...
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....
Frances K. Smith
(b Danzig, Germany [now Gdańsk, Poland], July 28, 1896; d Montreal, Nov 7, 1969).
Canadian painter of German birth. He was self-taught as an artist while in Danzig during the 1920s. He was attracted by Expressionist ideas and studied the work of contemporary artists in Germany through exhibitions and in books. Equally important was his experience of nature in the Baltic coastal region. A small, vivid painting, Bather, Baltic Sea (1925; Montreal, priv. col., see 1982 exh. cat., no. 1), which he took with him to Canada in 1928, echoes these experiences with stylistic influences from Max Pechstein and Paul Gauguin.
In Winnipeg, Brandtner found work as a designer for a mail-order catalogue. There he also formed a warm friendship with LeMoine FitzGerald. However, his highly coloured, emotionally aggressive drawings and paintings found few positive responses in Winnipeg, which had as yet little exposure to modern European art. In 1934, on FitzGerald’s advice, Brandtner moved to Montreal, where he devoted himself to painting and to teaching art to underprivileged children. He was commissioned to design a number of murals, including several for the Canadian National Railway for various parts of the country. In these he pioneered the use of carved and painted linoleum. His mural for the ballroom of the Newfoundland Hotel, St John’s, is a colourful, stylized rendering of musicians in carnival costume, the surface animated by textural variety. Other murals involved working in cast cement, stone, engraved steel and glass, as well as painting on canvas. He was among the first in Canada to experiment with abstract, Cubist and Constructivist styles, and his strength lay in his ability to assimilate influences into an intense personal statement. His lifelong concern for social issues, especially during the years of depression and war, is reflected in such works as the ...
(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 ...
Sharon Matt Atkins
(b Oakland, CA, Aug 26, 1925; d Tucson, AZ, June 4, 2009).
American painter, printmaker and teacher. Colescott produced highly expressive and gestural paintings that addressed a wide range of social and cultural themes and challenged stereotypes. Interested in issues of race, gender and power, his work critiqued the representation of minorities in literature, history, art and popular culture. Stylistically, his work is indebted to European modernism, particularly Cubism and Expressionism, but also makes references to African sculpture, African American art and post–World War II American styles.
Colescott was introduced to art at an early age. His mother was a pianist and his father was a classically-trained violinist and jazz musician. Through his parents’ social circles, he often found himself surrounded by creative individuals as he was growing up, like his artistic mentor, the sculptor Sargent Johnson (1888–1967). Colescott received his BA in 1949 and later his MFA in 1952 from the University of California, Berkeley. He also studied with ...
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 ...
(b Havana, April 5, 1942).
Cuban painter, active in the USA. He left Cuba in 1960 and settled in New York, where from 1966 to 1969 he studied at the School of Visual Arts. He was a protagonist of the neo-expressionist movement that emerged in New York in the 1970s (see Neo-Expressionism in America). His work of this date is characterized by a humour lacking in some of the work by European exponents, for example The Dance of Latin America (acrylic on canvas, 1.96×2.34 m, 1983; New York, Met.). In 1985 he won a Guggenheim Fellowship in painting. Works by Cruz Azaceta are in a number of collections (e.g. A Question of Colour, acrylic on canvas, 3.05×3.66 m, 1989; Houston, TX, Mus. F.A.) including those of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Rhode Island School of Design, Providence; Boston Museum of Fine Arts, MA; and the Houston Museum of Fine Arts, TX....
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 ...
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 (...
(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 Asia, Manchester, Jamaica, Jul 23, 1939; d Kingston, 2008).
Jamaican painter. He attended the Jamaica School of Art in Kingston part-time, although he was essentially self-taught. He started exhibiting in the late 1960s and he was a major exponent of the expressionist trend in Jamaican art. His central theme was the absurdity of the human condition, as seen from a personal, highly subjective perspective. While his early work is characterized by a gentle melancholy, his mature work has satirical, albeit anguished overtones. The human figure is central to most of his paintings and is usually subjected to caricatural distortion, although on occasion he also experimented with full abstraction. His major subjects were the self, the artist and the art world, the individual versus society, the man–woman relationship. Occasionally he also commented on political issues. Most of his works include self-images, in the form of direct self-portraits or projections into other personae such as the Christ figure. Among his major works is a fourteen-panel work, ...
(b Tupelo, MS, Nov 30, 1933).
American painter. He studied at the University of Louisville, KY (1952–6; 1958–61). Gilliam’s first works showed the influence of Emil Nolde and Paul Klee and the Abstract Expressionist Nathan Oliveira. After marrying Dorothy Butler in 1962, he settled in Washington, DC. There he established contact with Gene Davis (1920–85), Tom Downing (1928–85), and Howard Mehring (1931–78), who represented a second wave of artists associated with colour-field painting. Gilliam became well known for his colour-field paintings and became the most prominent African American abstract painter, with seven one-man exhibitions at the Jefferson Place Gallery, Washington, DC, between 1965 and 1973. Characteristic works of the 1960s include Petals (1967; Washington, DC, Phillips Col.), in which loose canvas is stained with patterns of colour achieved by pigments poured over before it is folded and restretched to give a symphonic resonance. Later works, such as ...
(b Oklahoma City, OK, March 23, 1937).
American painter and sculptor. During the late 1950s he moved from Oklahoma City to Los Angeles and attended the Chouinard Art Institute (1959–61) with his childhood friend Ed Ruscha. He subsequently became associated with the emerging Pop art movement when his paintings of milk bottles appeared in Walter Hopps’s 1962 exhibition New Paintings of Common Objects at the Pasadena Art Museum.
Although Goode’s work has often been compared to that of such Pop artists as Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein, it shares little of their preoccupation with either the mass media or technological reproduction. In many respects, his paintings and sculptures have much more in common with the work of Jasper Johns than they do with advertisements and consumer objects. In particular, his work develops the tension between the object and the image that was so central to Johns’s flag and target paintings during the late 1950s. In his milk bottle paintings, for example, he positioned painted bottles in front of low-hung, nearly monochrome canvases to explore the dynamic between the painting as an illusion and a decorative backdrop. During the late 1960s, he also constructed a series of staircases that ran up the walls or into the corners of the gallery. These works made coy reference to the recession of pictorial space in perspectival painting (not to mention Marcel Duchamp’s ...
Kristina Van Kirk
(b Long Beach, CA, Sept 12, 1928).
American painter and sculptor. He studied at the Otis Art Institute (1948–50) and at the new and progressive Chouinard Art Institute, Los Angeles (1952–4), where he adopted an Abstract Expressionist painting style. Through his association with the Ferus Gallery, Los Angeles (1959–66), he came into contact with such artists as Ed Moses (b 1926) and Billy Al Bengston. Irwin disdained his early paintings for their lack of ‘potency’. In the early 1960s he began a continuous series of experiments. He broke with figuration, searching like Minimalist artists for a way to make the work of art autonomous in content, that is representing nothing but itself, as in the Disc series that he began in 1966 (exh. 1968, Pasadena, CA, Norton Simon Mus. A.). Designed to exacting dimensions, colour tones, and lighting criteria, the Discs appeared suspended, free from the wall and comprising an uncertain mass that dematerialized into its environment....
(b New York, July 24, 1927).
American painter, sculptor, and printmaker. He studied (1946–50) in New York and in Skowhegan, ME. In the early 1950s he was influenced by the work of Jackson Pollock and other Abstract Expressionists and produced swiftly executed pictures of trees as well as various works based on photographs. In the mid-1950s, working from life, he painted spare, brightly coloured works of landscape, interiors, and figures, and soon afterwards also produced simplified images in collage. These early works emphasized the flatness of the picture plane while remaining representational, and this insistence on figuration placed him outside the contemporary avant-garde mainstream, in which abstraction and chance were key qualities. He developed his style in the portrait works of ordinary people from the late 1950s, such as Ada with White Dress (1958; artist’s col., see Sandler, pl. 55). This resolution of the demands of formalism and representation looked forward to the Pop art of the following decade. In the 1960s Katz’s works became more realistic and were executed in a smoother, more impersonal style, as in ...
(b New York City, 1909; d New York City, Aug 27, 1979).
African American painter. Norman Lewis was the first major African American painter associated with Abstract Expressionism. His body of works includes paintings, drawings and murals. A life-long resident of Harlem, New York, he was influenced early on by the sculptor and teacher Augusta Savage, who provided him with open studio space at her Harlem Art Center. It was there that he studied African art intensely and was introduced to Alain Locke (1886–1954), Howard University professor and intellectual leader of the Harlem Renaissance. Lewis became familiar with Locke’s ideas but soon questioned the wisdom of creating an art based on an “African” or “Negro” idiom. He thought Locke’s concept of art was limiting and wanted instead to be considered as an artist in the broadest sense of the term rather than just a “Negro artist.” In moving towards this goal, he exhibited with the American Abstract Artists, participated in the Works Progress Administration (WPA) art projects alongside his friends ...
(b Buenos Aires, Dec 15, 1949).
Argentine painter. He studied drawing and painting under Anselmo Piccoli (1915–93) and obtained a degree in psychology. His work occupies a transitional position between Neo-Expressionism and painting with a more symbolic emphasis and is characterized by an abstraction full of semiotic nuances. The lyricism of such works as Buenos Aires Is a Fiesta (1984; see Glusberg, 1985, p. 525) has a rhythmic, measured structure. It depicts coloured areas that revolve around a more densely coloured nucleus, the expanding universe, as it were. Portrayal of movement is constant in the works of the 1980s, some of which also depict bodies whose contours merge into the harmonic fabric of the painting. In subsequent works Médici used a more clearly semiotic approach, combining anthropomorphic figures with numbers, letters, lines, crosses, spirals and various designs suggestive of animals or other forms.J. Glusberg: Del Pop-art a la nueva imagen (Buenos Aires, 1985); Eng. trans., abridged as ...
(b Havana, 1914; d Havana, 1984).
Cuban painter. He was a member of the Grupo de los Once, which introduced Abstract Expressionism into Cuba without great success, although he is difficult to categorize in any one school. He had no formal training and worked entirely in small formats with ink and watercolour, producing haunting images of flowers (e.g. ...
(b Buenos Aires, July 3, 1950).
Argentine painter. He was self-taught and came to prominence in the early 1980s as part of a current of Neo-expressionism and New Image painting that related to international developments emanating from Europe and the USA. He favoured schematic images presented as signs, their flatness counteracted only by the sensations of space induced by his use of colour and texture. He often incorporated written inscriptions into his pictures, as in a series entitled ...