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Abstract Expressionism: The New York School

on January 23, 2023

The epicenter of the Abstract Expressionist movement was New York City, where a group of artists, known as the New York School, congregated and exchanged ideas. 

The term "Abstract Expressionism" was coined by art critic Robert Coates in a 1946 article for The New Yorker; and it was in New York that the movement gained prominence and international recognition.

Clyfford Still (1904-1980)

Abstract Expressionism - Clifford Still

'PH-972' by Clyfford Still (1959).

For years Clyfford Still was practically unknown compared to his contemporaries, despite being widely considered the most talented member of the group. His refusal to allow his works to be marginalized by poor quality exhibitions caused his reputation to falter, even as his artistic achievements thrived. When he died in 1980, he retained more than 95% of his output. In 2011, in accordance with the demands of his estate, a city finally built a dedicated museum for his oeuvre. The Clyfford Still Museum in Denver, Colorado, possesses more than 3,000 works created by Still between 1920 and 1980, most never before exhibited.

 Jackson Pollock (1912-1956)

Abstract Expressionism - Jackson PollockJackson Pollock, Blue Poles (1952)

Though not the first to employ them, Jackson Pollock is acknowledged as the artist to incorporate painting techniques most successfully like dripping, pouring and splattering into his work. The style Pollock developed involved rarely (if ever) making direct contact with the canvas. He instead held his painting implements above the surfaces and used his body to create active, gestural motions that resulted in paint being projected onto the surface in a loosely controlled and uninhibited way.

 Janet Sobel (1893 -1968)

Abstract Exppressionist - Janet Sobel

'Milky Way' by Janet Sobel, 1945.

Largely ignored during her lifetime, Janet Sobel was an influence on both Jackson Pollock and the art critic Clement Greenberg. Both men saw her paintings when Peggy Guggenheim exhibited them in 1944 at her Art of This Century Gallery in New York. Greenberg called her work the first all-over paintings he had ever seen. Sobel pioneered the iconic drip technique that Pollock made famous.

Willem de Kooning (1904 - 1997)

Abstract Expressionism - Willem de Kooning

'Gansevoort Street' by Willem de Kooning, 1949.

 Willem de Kooning was a huge influence on Abstract Expressionism, not only because of his art but because he was socially and intellectually engaged with so many other artists. He had a ravenous appetite for conversation and education. He and Franz Kline ran a weekly art club where creatives got together, drank coffee and argued about art. De Kooning once said, “The Club came along at just the right time. It was so important, getting together, arguing, thinking.” Every important artist of the time at one point showed up at the club.

Robert Motherwell (1915 – 1991)

Abstract Expressionism - Robert Motherwell

The youngest, and possibly most educated first-generation Abstract Expressionist, Robert Motherwell often acted as the intellectual voice of the group. He was an expert writer and speaker and had a deep knowledge of art history. His distinctive aesthetic style set his work in a category of its own.

Arshile Gorky (1904 – 1948)

Abstract Expressionism - Arshille Gorky

'The Liver is the Cock’s Comb' by Arshile Gorky 1944.

Arshile Gorky was one of the most passionate and influential voices surrounding Abstract Expressionism. His tireless efforts to educate the public about abstraction made him a leading advocate for aesthetic experimentation. By the time he died in 1948 he had developed one of the most energetic, vibrant and idiosyncratic voices in American painting.

 Lee Krasner (1908 -1984)

'Summer Play' by Lee Krasner, 1962.

Over the course of her long and distinguished career, Lee Krasner was consistently a voice for the avant-garde. Her personal style evolved multiple times, as she always prized individuality over movements or trends. Her approach to painting helped define Abstract Expressionism. She was a student of Hans Hoffman, and a regular at the art club run by Willem de Kooning, and for a time was in a turbulent marriage to Jackson Pollock.

Norman Lewis (1909 – 1979)

Norman Lewis -

'Twilight Sounds' by Norman Lewis, 1947.

 Sadly, galleries and museums mostly ignored the African American painter Norman Lewis during his lifetime. His contribution to first-generation Abstract Expressionism is indisputable nonetheless. His recent retrospective at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and his inclusion in a major Abstract Expressionist exhibition in Britain has begun to correct his unfortunate snub by art history.

Franz Kline (1910 - 1962)

Abstract Expressionism - Franz Kline

'Delaware Gap' by Franz Kline, 1952.

 The visual language created by Franz Kline is unlike that of any of his contemporaries. His techniques and the spirit with which he painted embody the philosophy of Abstract Expressionism. Using large brushes and common house paint, Kline engaged in vibrant, physical motions, creating huge, energetic compositions. His lines and forms, he said, were “unrelated to any entity but that of their own existence.”

Bradley Walker Tomlin (1899 – 1953) Abstract Expressionism - Bradley Walker TomlinUntitled by Bradley Walker Tomlin, no date (1899–1953).

Another commonly overlooked first-generation Abstract Expressionist, Bradley Walker Tomlin mixed expressive action painting with a methodical quest for perfection. His marginalization is beginning to be corrected, thanks to retrospective expositions of his works.

 

Pete Stein
Founder, Galerie Stein
Montreal

Galerie Stein will be presenting several contemporary Abstract Expressionist artists both virtually at GalerieStein.com and in our gallery in Montreal in 2024.

Contact: Pete Stein - Galerie Stein at peter@GalerieStein.com