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An Introduction to Abstract Expressionism

on December 21, 2022

Painting on Cave Walls 

From our earliest times paining on cave walls, there has always been a need for humans to express themselves artistically. Art has always had a way of giving a voice to ideas that would otherwise remain silent, while allowing us to experience emotion in a way that is individual to us all.

In particular, my love for abstract expressionism stems primarily from its ability to create emotion in way that is pure, direct, and individual to the viewer. But there are also so many other reasons to truly appreciate abstract expressionism, and as an introduction to our collections at Galerie Stein, I gladly share them with you here.


Abstract Expressionism was a Revolution in Freedom and Experimentation

Abstract Expressionism emerged in the United States in the mid-20th century and revolutionized the art world. With its spontaneous, non-representational style, Abstract Expressionism challenged and defied traditional artistic norms and ushered in a new era of artistic freedom and experimentation.


The Origins of Abstract Expressionism

Abstract Expressionism grew out of the turbulent years of the 1930s and 1940s, the time of the Great Depression and World War II. The political and social upheaval deeply affected artists, and their work often reflected a sense of existential angst, emotional turmoil, and the need for a new form of artistic expression—a form that could express raw emotion and inner experiences.

As they experimented, Abstract Expressionist painters found inspiration in the techniques of Surrealists from the 20s and 30s, like Salvador Dalí and especially Joan Miró, who experimented with automatic drawing and spontaneous, subconscious creativity.

Combined with psychological and philosophical ideas about existentialism and exploring the unconscious, Surrealism played an important role is shaping the new form of artistic expression that would revolutionize the art world and become known as Abstract Expressionism.


Abstract Expressionist Styles

Abstract Expressionists are often associated with one of two main styles: action painting and colour field painting.

1. Action Painting

This style includes artists such as Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, and Franz Kline. Action painters embraced spontaneity and often employed gestural, energetic brushwork. Jackson Pollock, known for his "drip paintings," allowed the paint to flow freely from his brush or dripped it directly onto the canvas. This technique, as seen in his iconic work "Autumn Rhythm," aimed to capture the artist's physical and emotional energy in the act of creation. (Image: Jackson Pollock's painting at the MoMA in NYC. Unsplashed license.)

2. Colour Field Painting

This style includes artists like Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman, and Clyfford Still. Colour field painters focused on large, flat expanses of colour, creating compositions that emphasized colour's emotional and spiritual qualities. Mark Rothko's "Untitled" series, with its luminous rectangles of colour, sought to evoke profound emotional responses from viewers and provide a contemplative experience.


More Abstract Expressionism to Come

Over our next several blog posts I will continue to focus on these luminaries and founding members of the early Abstract Expressionist movement, while at the same writing about some of the contemporary artists I currently admire.

In the meanwhile, I invite you to spend some time viewing the very talented artists and collections we currently have featured at our virtual gallery at 


Pete Stein
Founder, Galerie Stein

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