Abstract Expressionism

The first major art movement attributed to American artists, abstract expressionism is a post-world war 2 art movement that started in New York City. The name was derived from mixing the emotional work of German Expressionism with the anti-figure aesthetic of the European abstract schools. There was a push away from the formal figures and a larger focus on just the lines and shapes within the art. Different artists showcased this, from Jackson Pollock’s action painting style to the Color Field style of paintings which featured shapes and colors.

Jackson Pollock

One of the best known abstract expressionism painters, Jackson Pollock is most well known for his “drip” technique and action style of painting. He would lay the canvas on the floor and drip the liquid paint on the canvas, creating dynamic paintings. He had a difficult time branching out beyond the style he was known for, though.

Number 17 A (1948)

Created by laying the canvas on the ground and splashing the paint onto the canvas, this painting was introduced one year after Pollock first developed his drip style. This was his breakout piece, having been featured in Life Magazine in August of 1949 and it made Jackson Pollock a celebrity.

Autumn Rhythm (1950)

“I'm very representational some of the time, and a little all of the time. But when you're working out of your unconscious, figures are bound to emerge. Painting is a state of being. Painting is self-discovery. Every good artist paints what he is." - Jackson Pollock

This size of this painting is of note. It’s 207 inches wide, or 17 and a half feet wide. While he would flick, splash, drip and throw paint, he also said of his work, "I can control the flow of paint: there is no accident."

Mark Rothko

Rothko’s work was basically the opposite of Pollock’s. Mark Rothko’s style was called color field. Although he started his career with surrealism, the large canvases of large color blocks really defined his career and led to his fame later in his career. “I’m interested only in expressing basic human emotions—tragedy, ecstasy, doom, and so on,” he declared. “And the fact that a lot of people break down and cry when confronted with my pictures shows that I can communicate those basic human emotions….If you…are moved only by their color relationships, then you miss the point.”

Untitled (1952)

A great example of Mark Rothko’s work, the color fields would often be uneven and of different sizes. He often struggled with people’s interpretations of his work. He wanted the work to speak for itself, saying "My art is not abstract, it lives and breathes."

Untitled (Black on Gray) (1969-1970)

While earlier in his career, he’s painting were brighter and filled with many different colors, as he approached the end of his life, which he ended in suicide, he made a series labelled The Black Paintings. These paintings expressed tragedy and death. They were devoid of color, only having the the black, grays and hints of white.