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 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 ...
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 ...
(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....
Vivian Endicott Barnett
[Vassily; Wassily] (Vasil’yevich)
(b Moscow, Dec 4, 1866; d Neuilly-sur-Seine, Dec 13, 1944).
Russian painter, printmaker, stage designer, decorative artist and theorist. A central figure in the development of 20th-century art and specifically in the transition from representational to abstract art, Kandinsky worked in a wide variety of media and was an important teacher and theoretician. He worked mainly outside Russia, but his Russian heritage continued to be an important factor in his development.
Kandinsky grew up in Odessa and from 1886 to 1893 studied economics, ethnography and law in Moscow, where he wrote a dissertation on the legality of labourers’ wages. He married his cousin Anya Shemyakina in 1892 (divorced 1911). In 1896 Kandinsky decided to become an artist and went to Munich. There he studied from 1896 to 1898 at the art school of Anton Ažbe, where he met Alexei Jawlensky and Marianne von Werefkin, and then in 1900 at the Akademie with Franz von Stuck. The following year he was a co-founder of the ...
Robert Saltonstall Mattison
(b Aberdeen, WA, Jan 24, 1915; d Princetown, MA, July 16, 1991).
American painter, printmaker, and editor. A major figure of the Abstract Expressionist generation (see Abstract Expressionism), in his mature work he encompassed both the expressive brushwork of action painting and the breadth of scale and saturated hues of colour field painting, often with a marked emphasis on European traditions of abstraction.
Motherwell was sent to school in the dry climate of central California to combat severe asthmatic attacks and developed a love for the broad spaces and bright colours that later emerged as essential characteristics of his abstract paintings. His later concern with themes of mortality can likewise be traced to his frail health as a child. From 1932 he studied literature, psychology, and philosophy at Stanford University, CA, and encountered in the poetry of the French Symbolists an expression of moods that dispensed with traditional narrative. He paid tribute to these writers in later paintings such as ...
Deborah A. Middleton
American group of artists active in the 1950s and 1960s who were part of a movement that was reacting to Minimalism, Abstract Expressionism and conceptual art by choosing to represent traditional subjects of nudes, portraiture, still lifes, landscapes and urban street scenes that often were plain and ordinary. The rise of consumerism and mass production inspired New Realist artists who returned to representing subjects as everyday and common visual encounters and experiences. The New Realist movement is in contrast to earlier forms of realism practiced by European artists whose works embody idealism or romanticize the commonality of the subject. New Realism is also associated with the emergence of Photorealism, where the camera captured the momentary fleeting naturalism of the subject. A common approach characteristically unifying New Realist artworks is the notion of the presence of the subject, which is understood as the representation of a neutral peripheral visual experience that exposes the subject prior to its discovery as a cognitive translation, intellectual or emotional response. Paintings and drawings present the perception of the real in a direct, clear and straightforward way using conventional drawing and painting techniques, and classical compositional approaches. Subjects are acutely observed and revealed with precise attention to detail and technical draftsmanship to disclose the detached presence of the subject itself....
(b New York, Jan 29, 1905; d New York, July 4, 1970).
American painter, sculptor, printmaker, and writer. He was a major exponent of Abstract Expressionism whose reductive idiom employing large chromatic expanses exerted a considerable impact on abstract art after World War II. His writings and pronouncements also contributed to the accompanying theoretical debates during and after the 1960s about meaning in non-figurative expression.
After studies at the Art Students League, New York, in 1922 and 1929 Newman destroyed most of his basically realistic initial output and stopped painting by about 1939–40. He explained that the world historical crisis then had rendered traditional subject-matter and styles invalid, necessitating the search for a new, awe-inspiring content appropriate to the moment. A series of essays and catalogue introductions throughout the 1940s reiterated this aesthetic quest. Their polemical stance focused upon the need for a break with outworn European traditions (including such native continuations as American Scene painting), chaos as a wellspring of human creativity, and the irrelevance of beauty in times of terror. Instead, he resurrected the venerable concept of the Sublime for a metaphysical ‘art which through symbols will catch the basic truth of life which is its sense of tragedy’ (‘The Plasmic Image’, unpublished essay, ...
(b Dvinsk, Russia [now Daugavpils, Latvia], Sept 25, 1903; d New York, Feb 25, 1970).
American painter and draughtsman of Russian birth. He was one of the major figures of Abstract Expressionism and an important influence on the development of Colour field painting.
In 1913 he immigrated with his mother and sister to the USA, where they were reunited with his father and two older brothers, who had settled in Portland, OR, a few years earlier. As a youth in Portland, Rothko excelled scholastically and in particular pursued interests in literature, music, and social studies. From 1921 to 1923 he attended Yale University on a scholarship, but he left in his third year without graduating. He moved to New York, where he sporadically attended a few courses at the Art Students League, including a painting class with Max Weber, which constituted his only formal training in art. Essentially self-taught, Rothko educated himself by attending exhibitions and visiting the studios of artists such as Milton Avery, whose paintings of simplified forms and flat areas of colour suggested possibilities for Rothko’s own work....
(b Grandin, ND, Nov 30, 1904; d Baltimore, MD, June 23, 1980).
American painter. His best-known work is associated with Abstract Expressionism, although he had established the basis for a strongly original style and outlook before any contact with New York art circles. His early life was divided between Washington state, where he was educated, and a prairie homestead in southern Alberta, Canada. Domestic tensions and the vicissitudes of farm life added an embattled note to his rugged though sensitive intellect. He was also deeply influenced by the vast flatness of the Canadian landscape, which became more desolate during an extended period of drought and depression after 1917. Early paintings such as the Row of Grain Elevators (1929; Washington, DC, Smithsonian Amer. A. Mus.) depict the agricultural environment of the prairies in a vigorous, somewhat crude manner reminiscent of Regionalism (see Regionalism). Yet they also stress the symbolic polarities that the artist described as the ‘vertical necessity of life’ rising against the horizontal, so that the anatomy of the human figure remained a seminal concern. Among other early stylistic traits were the reduction of form to essentials, compositions often structured around a central mass and the device of animating sombre colour schemes with small bright accents. Throughout his career, Still produced many works on paper....