Abstract Art is a wide movement in American painting that began in the late 1940s and turned into a dominant trend in Western painting throughout the 50s. The leading American Abstract Expressionist painters were Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline, and Mark Rothko. Some others were Clyfford Still, Philip Guston, Helen Frankenthaler, Barnett Newman, Adolph Gottlieb, Robert Motherwell, Lee Krasner, Bradley Walker Tomlin, William Baziotes, Ad Reinhardt, Richard Pousette-Dart, Elaine de Kooning, and Jack Tworkov. Many of these worked, lived, or had their work shown in New York City.
Although it is the common designation, Abstract Expressionism is not the correct title of the pieces created by these artists. Actually, the movement had numerous different painterly styles that changed in both skill and quality of work. Despite this vast area of difference, Abstract Expressionist paintings possess some wider characteristics. They are fundamentally abstract — that is to say, they are based around forms that are not taken from the real world.
They furthermore master free, spontaneous, and individualised emotional expression, and they display wide freedom of skill and process to reach this outcome, with particular emphasis focused on the manipulation of the changeable physical nature of paint to evoke expressive qualities (for example, sensuousness, dynamism, violence, mystery, lyricism). They exhibit the same kind of importance on the unstudied and intuitive application of paint in a process of psychological improvisation in the trend of the automatism of the Surrealists, with the similar goal of expressing the power of the creative unconscious in art. They display the conscious ignorance of conventionally structured composition created out of discrete and segregable effects and their replacement with a individual unified, unvaried partition, network, or other image that exists in unstructured space. Finally, the paintings fill huge canvases to grant such aforementioned visual aspects both monumentality and engrossing might.
The leading Abstract Expressionists had two notable forerunners: Arshile Gorky, who painted suggestive biomorphic images with a free, lightly linear and liquid paint method; and Hans Hofmann, who made use of dynamic and harshly textured brushwork in his abstract but conventionally composed paintings. An early and special influence on nascent Abstract Expressionism was the arrival on US shores in the late thirties and early 1940s of a group of Surrealists and other European avant-garde artists who were fleeing Nazi-dominated Europe. These artists powerfully impressed the native New York City painters and allowed them a more intimate perspective of the vanguard of European artwork. The Abstract Expressionist movement itself is commonly viewed as having started with the painting mastered by Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning during the late forties and early 50s.
With regard to the variation of technique in the Abstract Expressionist movement, three wide approaches can be found. The first was action painting which is recognised by a loose, rapidfire, dynamic, or forceful handling of paint in sweeping or slashing brushstrokes, and in technique in large part dictated by chance, for example dripping or spilling paint right onto the canvas. Pollock initially practiced action painting by dripping commercial paints onto a raw canvas to create complex and tangled skeins of paint into thrilling and suggestive linear patterns. De Kooning used highly vigorous and expressive brushstrokes to build up richly coloured and textured images. Kline was known for dynamic, sweeping black strokes onto the white canvas to create starkly monumental forms.
The second field with Abstract Expressionism is represented by numerous varied styles from the more lyrical, delicate imagery and fluid shapes in paintings by Guston and Frankenthaler to the clearly structured, forceful, almost calligraphic artworks of Motherwell and Gottlieb.
The third and least emotionally expressive area was that of Rothko, Newman, and Reinhardt. These painters took large areas or blocks of flat colour and weak diaphanous paint to create quiet, subtle, almost meditative works. The leading colour-field painter was Rothko; the majority of his works consist of large combinations of soft-edged, solidly coloured rectangular blocks that tend to gleam and resonate.
Abstract Expressionism created a special impact on both the American and European art worlds in the 1950s. Indeed, the movement instigated the shift of the creative centre of modern day painting from Paris to New York City through the postwar years. In the decade of the 1950s, the younger followers of the movement increasingly took to the trend of the colour-field painters. By the 1960s, the younger artists had generally moved away from the highly charged expressiveness of the action painters.