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 coined during the height of Abstract Expressionism in the USA, with particular relevance to the work of painter Jackson Pollock. The ‘all-over’ quality of works such as Lavender Mist: Number 1, 1950 (Washington, DC, N.G.A.) refers to its lack of compositional structure (no apparent foreground, middleground, or background) as in traditional representational painting. It also suggests the lack of spatial delineations or focal points of any kind, creating an entirely abstract work that asserts the canvas’s flat surface and eschews any attempt at representational or symbolic interpretation (see fig.). The large scale of Pollock’s drip paintings made their all-over quality all the more impressive as the sprawled paint made the viewer survey the entire surface. Though initially used to describe Pollock’s drip paintings, the term was later applied to the colour field painters of the second generation of Abstract Expressionists. Furthermore, the term ‘all-over’ can be applied to a variety of abstract design strategies (for example, some works by Cy Twombly)....
(b Solothurn, March 28, 1868; d Oschwand, July 6, 1961).
Swiss painter and sculptor. From 1884 to 1886 he received irregular lessons from the Swiss painter Frank Buscher (1828–90). In the autumn of 1886 he attended the Akademie der bildenden Künste in Munich and the following year met Giovanni Giacometti, who was to be a lifelong friend. In 1888 he visited the Internationale Kunstausstellung in Munich, where he was particularly impressed by the work of Jules Bastien-Lepage and Whistler. This prompted him to go to Paris to continue his studies, and from 1888 to 1891 he attended the Académie Julian, working under William-Adolphe Bouguereau, Tony Robert-Fleury and Gabriel Ferrier. While in Paris he also met Paul Sérusier, Maurice Denis and other Nabis artists, though his own painting of this period was most influenced by Impressionism. In 1892 he was advised to visit Pont-Aven in Brittany, where he met Emile Bernard, Armand Séguin and Roderic O’Conor, as well as seeing the works of Vincent Van Gogh and Gauguin at first hand. This brief period had a decisive effect upon his work, leading to such Synthetist paintings as ...
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....
(b Leipzig, Feb 12, 1884; d New York, Dec 27, 1950).
German painter, draughtsman, printmaker and teacher. He was one of the most important German painters of the 20th century. He was initially influenced by traditional styles, but during World War I he rejected perspective and classical proportion in favour of a more expressive objective art. He was persecuted by the Nazis in the 1930s but continued to work, painting his celebrated secular triptychs in the late 1930s and the 1940s.
Beckmann showed artistic promise from an early age, painting as early as c. 1898 a Self-portrait with Soap Bubbles (mixed media on cardboard; priv. col.; see Lackner, 1991, p. 10). After training at the Kunstschule in Weimar (1900–03), he studied under the patronage of Julius Meier-Graefe in Paris. There he became acquainted with the works of the Impressionists, Cézanne, van Gogh and probably such early French paintings as the Avignon Pietà. From 1903 until the outbreak of World War I he lived mostly in or near Berlin. He began painting landscapes and from ...
Iain Boyd Whyte
(b Hamburg, April 14, 1868; d Berlin, Feb 27, 1940).
German architect, designer and painter. Progressing from painting and graphics to product design and architecture, Behrens achieved his greatest successes with his work for the Allgemeine Elektrizitäts-Gesellschaft (AEG), in which he reconciled the Prussian Classicist tradition with the demands of industrial fabrication.
After attending the Realgymnasium in Altona, he began his painting studies in 1886 at the Kunstakademie in Karlsruhe. From there he moved to Düsseldorf, where he studied with Ferdinand Brütt. In December 1889 Behrens married Lilli Krämer, and the following year the couple moved to Munich, where he continued his studies with Hugo Kotschenreiter (1854–1908). Behrens was one of the founder-members of the Munich Secession (see Secession, §1) in 1893 and, shortly afterwards, a founder of the more progressive Freie Vereinigung Münchener Künstler, with Otto Eckmann, Max Slevogt, Wilhelm Trübner and Lovis Corinth. He also joined the circle associated with the magazine Pan, which included Otto Julius Bierbaum, Julius Meier-Graefe, Franz Blei, Richard Dehmel and Otto Eckmann....
(b Velké Lišice, nr Chlumec nad Cidlinou, Jan 22, 1883; d Prague, March 27, 1979).
Czech painter, writer and theorist. In 1902–4 he studied at the Prague School of Applied Art and in 1904–7 at the Academy of Fine Arts. After visiting Dresden, Berlin, Munich and Paris, he returned to Prague and joined Eight, the, which had been set up by his former fellow students; he exhibited at the group’s second show in 1908. His early work was influenced by the ideas of Bohumil Kubišta, with whom he shared a workshop. Although basically an uncomplicated, sensual painter, he attempted to keep well informed about contemporary artistic trends. In 1910–14 he became a fervent devotee of Cubism and, together with Emil Filla, adhered faithfully to the style of Picasso and Braque. He was one of the founders (1911) of the Group of Plastic Artists and contributed theoretical articles to its journal, Umělecký měsíčník. No consistent reconstruction of his paintings before World War I can be made because most of his Cubist works were later destroyed. His process of crystallization in relation to the painting of space culminated in ...
(b Vienna, Oct 13, 1920).
Israeli painter of Austrian birth, active in Australia. He grew up in Warsaw. His father, the pseudonymous Jewish writer Melech Ravitch, owned books on German Expressionism, which were an early influence. Conscious of rising anti-Semitism in Poland, Ravitch visited Australia in 1934 and later arranged for his family to settle there. Bergner arrived in Melbourne in 1937. Poor, and with little English, his struggle to paint went hand-in-hand with a struggle to survive. In 1939 he attended the National Gallery of Victoria’s art school and came into contact with a group of young artists including Victor O’Connor (b 1918) and Noel Counihan, who were greatly influenced by Bergner’s haunting images of refugees, hard-pressed workers and the unemployed, for example The Pumpkin-eaters (c. 1940; Canberra, N.G.). Executed in an expressionist mode using a low-toned palette, they were among the first social realist pictures done in Australia.
(b Budapest, Oct 26, 1941).
Hungarian painter, photographer and conceptual artist. He studied under Géza Fónyi at the Fine Art College in Budapest and then from 1966 to 1972 produced portraits, in which the influence of Expressionism was noticeable. From 1973 to 1979, however, he moved in a different direction, producing films, photographic sequences and textual conceptual works, all based on structuralist analysis of pictorial representation and of the institutions of the exhibition and the museum (e.g. the photographic sequences Inquiries on the Exterior Wall of the Museum of Fine Arts, 1975–6; and Reflections, 1976). From 1975 to 1980 he was involved in the Indigo project led by Miklós Erdély, but in 1980 he returned to oil painting, producing abstract works divided into two or three sections and often symmetrical in composition. At first these were vividly coloured, using bold brushstrokes and inspired by the Hungarian landscape, but later works were dominated by schematic representations of the human face, reduced after ...
(b Parchim, Jan 16, 1897; d Perth, 1990).
Australian painter of German birth. Blumann studied at the Berlin Academy of Art under Max Liebermann and Käthe Kollwitz. Influenced by their example, as well as the Der Sturm artists, her favoured style was a robust Expressionism. In 1923 she married Dr Arnold Blumann and they migrated to Perth in 1938. There her expressionist techniques were combined with a sensitivity to the local light and colour of the Western Australian landscape, charting in particular the Swan River near her home in Nedlands. While her bold and energetic landscape works were accepted, her unashamed approach to the human figure was not tolerated so well. For example, in her 1944 exhibition (held under the anglicized name Elise Burleigh), images of nude bodies in the landscape caused a great deal of controversy. In 1942, with Robert Campbell of the Art Gallery of Western Australia, Blumann established the Perth Art Group, to cultivate local interest in modern art. She also gave private lessons in her home and sought to unleash her students’ innate creativity. After travelling through Europe in the 1950s and 1960s, her output and exhibiton rate diminished. Her first major retrospective in Gallery G in ...
(b Frauenberg, Nov 11, 1951).
German painter and sculptor. He studied sociology, politics and educational theory at university (1970–76). Bömmels became known within the context of German Neo-Expressionism in the early 1980s: he was a member of the Cologne-based group Mülheimer Freiheit, and his vigorous, fluid technique and symbolist leanings led him to be associated with the ‘wild’ painters or New Primitives. Break with History (1984–5; see Faust, 1990, pl. 22) is typical of his early style: intense, expressionistic facture combines with a striking palette of brown, yellow and red to depict a cryptic scene of fleshy but ghost-like figures in a torn landscape; the scene could be read as referring to the contemporary political divisions within Germany. Bömmels’s interest in history and love of hermetic allegories gradually led him to be influenced by the medieval and Roman art of Cologne. Scales of Justice (1984–5; see Faust, 1990, pl. 22) is characteristic of the early stages of this development: two old tradesmen’s signs, painted with obscure symbols, hang from a crooked wooden cross which stands in the stump of a tree. Towards the end of the 1980s his handling shed its vigour and came to resemble the faintly comic style of Romanesque sculpture; he also began to employ a variety of new formats, including relief carving and paintings on wood. ...
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 ...
[Ger.: ‘the bridge’]
German group of painters and printmakers active from 1905 to 1913 and closely associated with the development of Expressionism (see Expressionism, §1).
The Künstlergruppe Brücke was founded on 7 June 1905 in Dresden by four architecture students: Fritz Bleyl (1880–1966), Erich Heckel, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, and Karl Schmidt (later Schmidt-Rottluff). They were joined by other German and European artists, including Max Pechstein, Cuno Amiet, and Lambertus Zijl in 1906, Akseli Gallen-Kallela in 1907, Kees van Dongen and Franz Nölken in 1908, Bohumil Kubišta and Otto Mueller in 1910; Emil Nolde was a temporary member (1906–7). Kirchner and Bleyl had become friends in 1901 as architecture students at the Technische Hochschule in Dresden. Heckel and Schmidt-Rottluff had met while at school in Chemnitz. Through Heckel’s brother Manfred they met Kirchner while studying architecture in Dresden c. 1904. They were united by a common aim to break new boundaries in art....
(b Jena, Thüringen, March 15, 1954).
German painter and sculptor. He studied at Berlin University but was self-taught as an artist. He came to international prominence in the early 1980s along with a generation of young German Neo-Expressionist painters. In particular, he was associated with a group from Hamburg that included Albert Oehlen (with whom he had a long and formative association) and Martin Kippenberger. Like many of the Hamburg painters, his work was characterized by satirical attacks on the bourgeoisie, while its fantastical and infantilist dimensions were informed by a distaste for the excesses of contemporary mass culture. Still Life with Ray and Special Offer (1983; see 1987 exh. cat.) is in many ways typical of his early work: a comical image of a frowning ray, it is executed in thick, vigorous strokes and dominated by the dark palette favoured by Büttner during this period. The title, which appears to offer little with which to interpret the image is also characteristic of the way in which he counterposed image and title. His sculpture took a number of forms, but appears to be predominantly inspired by Dada traditions. ...
Timothy O. Benson
(b Krefeld, Nov 3, 1889; d Amsterdam, May 9, 1957).
German painter, printmaker and stained-glass artist. He attended the Fachschule für Textilindustrie and the Kunstgewerbeschule in Krefeld (1905–9), where his teacher Johan Thorn Prikker showed him the power of line and colour and introduced him to the work of Vincent van Gogh and Paul Cézanne. In 1911 he was invited by Franz Marc and Vasily Kandinsky to Sindelsdorf in Upper Bavaria. They knew of his work through August Macke whose cousin, Helmut, shared a studio with Campendonk. While Campendonk’s harmonious and often transparent application of luxurious Fauvist colours reflects the influence of Robert and Sonia Delaunay and of Macke, Marc’s geometric compositional approach is clearly visible in the experimental style of such paintings as Leaping Horse (1911; Saarbrücken, Saarland Mus.), shown in the first exhibition of Der Blaue Reiter in 1911–12 in Munich and illustrated in the almanac Der Blaue Reiter. Unlike Marc, however, he included figures in his mystical portrayals of animals in nature. This subject-matter was also explored in his first tentative graphic works, published in ...
(b Hronov, March 23, 1887; d Bergen-Belsen, April 1945).
Czech painter, printmaker and writer. He studied weaving (1901–3) in Vrchlabí and then from 1904 to 1910 decorative painting at the School of Applied Arts in Prague, where he was influenced by the highly decorative art of the Secession. During this period he wrote stories with his brother, the novelist Karel Čapek (1890–1938). In 1910 they went to Paris for nearly a year, where Josef Čapek studied painting at the Académie Colarossi and became a friend of Apollinaire. In 1911 he and his brother co-founded the Cubist-orientated Group of Plastic Artists. Čapek attempted to modify Cubism by introducing elements of Expressionism and Symbolism. His efforts dumbfounded some members of the group, and in 1912 he and various of his friends parted company with it. From 1915 he began to achieve a synthesis of Cubism, Neo-classicism and a personal symbolism (e.g. the Man in the Hat, 1915...
(b Kraków, June 13, 1884; d Barvish, nr Moscow, Aug 20, 1944).
Polish painter, Theoretician, philosopher and mathematician. He had little artistic training, spending half a year at the studio of Józef Mehoffer at the Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków (1903–4) and studying drawing in Paris in 1913–14. He began exhibiting in 1917, but only in Poland. From 1906 he taught mathematics, first at a secondary school, then at the Jagiellonian University in Kraków and from 1930 as Professor of Mathematical Logic at Jan Kazimierz University in Lwow (now Lviv, Ukraine). In 1941 while fleeing from the Germans he stayed in Tbilisi and then Moscow, where he associated with the Polish communist authorities.
In his youth Chwistek had links with the artistic circle in Zakopane and was a friend of Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz. From the moment of his first exhibition he was committed to the Formist movement (see Formists) and became its leading theoretician, producing his article ‘Wielość rzeczywistości w sztuce’ (‘Plurality of reality in art’) in ...
(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 ...