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abstract expressionism,movement of abstract painting that emerged in New York City during the mid-1940s and attained singular prominence in American art in the following decade; also called action painting and the New York school. It was the first important school in American painting to declare its independence from European styles and to influence the development of art abroad. Arshile GorkyGorky, Arshile
, c.1900–48, American painter, b. Armenia as Vosdanig Adoian. He escaped the Turkish slaughter of Armenians, emigrated to the United States in 1920, studied at Boston's New School of Design, and moved to New York City in 1925.
..... Click the link for more information. first gave impetus to the movement. His paintings, derived at first from the art of PicassoPicasso, Pablo
(Pablo Ruiz y Picasso) , 1881–1973, Spanish painter, sculptor, graphic artist, and ceramist, who worked in France. He is generally considered in his technical virtuosity, enormous versatility, and incredible originality and prolificity to have been the
..... Click the link for more information. , MiróMiró, Joan
, 1893–1983, Spanish surrealist painter. After studying in Barcelona, Miró went to Paris in 1919. In the 1920s he came into contact with cubism and surrealism.
..... Click the link for more information. , and surrealismsurrealism
, literary and art movement influenced by Freudianism and dedicated to the expression of imagination as revealed in dreams, free of the conscious control of reason and free of convention.
..... Click the link for more information. , became more personally expressive.
Jackson PollockPollock, Jackson,
1912–56, American painter, b. Cody, Wyo. He studied (1929–31) in New York City, mainly under Thomas Hart Benton, but he was more strongly influenced by A. P. Ryder and the Mexican muralists, especially Siqueiros.
..... Click the link for more information. 's turbulent yet elegant abstract paintings, which were created by spattering paint on huge canvases placed on the floor, brought abstract expressionism before a hostile public. Willem de Kooningde Kooning, Willem
, 1904–97, American painter, b. Netherlands; studied Rotterdam Academy of Fine Arts and Techniques. De Kooning immigrated to the United States, arriving as a stowaway in 1926 and settling in New York City, where he worked on the Federal Arts Project
..... Click the link for more information. 's first one-man show in 1948 established him as a highly influential artist. His intensely complicated abstract paintings of the 1940s were followed by images of Woman, grotesque versions of buxom womanhood, which were virtually unparalleled in the sustained savagery of their execution. Painters such as Philip GustonGuston, Philip,
1913–80, American painter, b. Montreal. Guston emigrated to the United States in 1916. His earliest role models as an artist were such Mexican muralists as José Orozco and David Siqueiros; he later made nonobjective murals with Jackson Pollock and
..... Click the link for more information. and Franz KlineKline, Franz,
1910–62, American painter, b. Wilkes-Barre, Pa. He studied (1937–38) in England, then settled in New York City. His first works were representational, often portraying the industrial landscapes of Pennsylvania's coal and steel towns.
..... Click the link for more information. turned to the abstract late in the 1940s and soon developed strikingly original styles—the former, lyrical and evocative, the latter, forceful and boldly dramatic. Other important artists involved with the movement included Hans HofmannHofmann, Hans,
1880–1966, American painter, b. Germany. After earning a considerable reputation as a teacher in Munich, Hofmann moved permanently to the United States in 1930.
..... Click the link for more information. , Robert MotherwellMotherwell, Robert,
1915–91, American painter and writer, b. Aberdeen, Wash. Motherwell taught art at several colleges and during the early 1940s he became a cogent theoretician of abstract expressionism.
..... Click the link for more information. , and Mark RothkoRothko, Mark
, 1903–70, American painter, b. Dvinsk, Russia (now Daugavpils, Latvia), as Marcus Rotkovitch. His family immigrated to the United States in 1913. He was a student of Max Weber, then came under the influence of the surrealists.
..... Click the link for more information. ; among other major abstract expressionists were such painters as Clyfford StillStill, Clyfford,
1904–80, American painter, b. Grandin, N.Dak. A brilliant painter, he was one of the founders of abstract expressionism, although never one of the style's best-known practitioners. The reclusive Still was a pioneer in the use of the mural-sized canvas.
..... Click the link for more information. , Theodoros StamosStamos, Theodoros
, 1920–, American painter, b. New York City. Allied with the New York school of the 1960s (see modern art), Stamos draws much of his inspiration from Asian mysticism.
..... Click the link for more information. , Adolph GottliebGottlieb, Adolph,
1903–74, American painter, b. New York City. Gottlieb studied under John Sloan and Robert Henri. In the 1940s he created pictographs which were stylized, primitive symbols set in a gridlike pattern. His abstract dynamic canvases of the following decade (e.
..... Click the link for more information. , Helen FrankenthalerFrankenthaler, Helen
, 1928–2011, American painter, b. New York City. A member of abstract expressionism's second generation, Frankenthaler was greatly influenced by Jackson Pollock, with whom she studied.
..... Click the link for more information. , Lee KrasnerKrasner, Lee
, 1911–84, American artist, b. Brooklyn. She studied with Hans Hofmann and became a leading figure in abstract expressionism along with her husband, Jackson Pollock.
..... Click the link for more information. , and Esteban Vicente.
Abstract expressionism presented a broad range of stylistic diversity within its largely, though not exclusively, nonrepresentational framework. For example, the expressive violence and activity in paintings by de Kooning or Pollock marked the opposite end of the pole from the simple, quiescent images of Mark Rothko. Basic to most abstract expressionist painting were the attention paid to surface qualities, i.e., qualities of brushstroke and texture; the use of huge canvases; the adoption of an approach to space in which all parts of the canvas played an equally vital role in the total work; the harnessing of accidents that occurred during the process of painting; the glorification of the act of painting itself as a means of visual communication; and the attempt to transfer pure emotion directly onto the canvas. The movement had an inestimable influence on the many varieties of work that followed it, especially in the way its proponents used color and materials. Its essential energy transmitted an enduring excitement to the American art scene.
See M. Seuphor, Abstract Painting: Fifty Years of Accomplishment from Kandinsky to the Present (1962, repr. 1964); I. Sandler, The Triumph of American Painting: A History of Abstract Expressionism (1970); M. Tuchman, ed., The New York School: Abstract Expressionism in the 40s and 50s (rev. ed. 1970); S. Guilbaut, How New York Stole the Idea of Modern Art (1983); W. C. Seitz, Abstract Expressionist Painting in America (1983); F. Frascina, ed., Pollock and After (1985); D. Anfam, Abstract Expressionism (1990); S. Polcari, Abstract Expressionism and the Modern Experience (1991); A. E. Gibson, Abstract Expressionism: Other Politics (1997); D. Craven, Abstract Expressionism as Cultural Critique (1999).