Abstract Expressionism is a vast and inclusive genre. What sets it apart is not color or technique but intent. The Abstract Expressionists sought to convey spontaneity and raw emotion through abstraction. Many viewed art as ascension to something deeper and more spiritual. Folk lore and the primitive unconscious are often cited as sources of inspiration. From Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings to Barnett Newman’s near solid color canvases, this idea can be conveyed in a multitude of ways. When collecting within such a broad movement, it is important to define which aspect appeals to the collector. With a specific focus in mind, collecting seems less daunting and overwhelming.
Abstract Expressionism was the first original American art movement. In the Twentieth Century, European Modernists began to make contact with New York. Many were forced out of their homelands due to war. These previously obscure artists were inspirations and mentors, invigorating the American artists. This new breed of American artist began to converge in Greenwich Village where they set out to explore new possibilities for abstraction.
One aspect that sets many of these artists apart is approach. Pollock is the iconic figure of the movement and rightfully so. His drip paintings redefined how art can function and was truly original. However, not all of Abstract Expressionism is dramatic splatters of paint.
For collectors interested in the precession of Color Field or Minimalism, Mark Rothko and Barnett Newman are artists to explore. Both artists viewed color as a communication device. Rothko described one such work, Four Darks in Red (1958), as being originally figurative, but that the figures were “removed.” The colors serve as imprints. Newman took these ideas further by his use of the “zip”—a stripe of color or solid line used to create definition. Newman’s intention with the zip was to invoke something deeper within the viewer and to challenge what was typical for abstraction.
Extreme abstraction does not exclude more concrete concepts such as geometry or figuration. Ad Reinhardt and Richard Pousette-Dart both sought to find meaning beyond aesthetics when creating their geometric works. Both artists speak to something primal, but in very individual ways. Richard Pousette-Dart’s art is distinct for texture and complex design. Reinhardt challenged his art to hold no reference to the real world while also using geometry to a mystical end.
Philip Guston and Willem de Kooning on the other hand use surreal imagery and figures in their works. Guston experimented with several other methods and eventually developed a cartoonish style that became his hallmark. de Kooning’s work is characterized by a sense of movement or action. Both found new ways to bring abstraction into a more traditional arena.
These are only a few artists which make up the vast genre of Abstract Expressionism. While they are each unique, they were all united in the desire to reach for an indescribable emotion or idea.
For more information or to schedule a consultation regarding collecting Abstract Expressionist works, please contact the gallery.
Feature image: Jackson Pollock, Blue poles (Number 11, 1952), 1952. Enamel and aluminium paint with glass on canvas, 212.1 x 488.9 cm. National Gallery of Australia, Canberra. © The Pollock-Krasner Foundation ARS, NY and DACS, London 2016