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Explain the Abstract Expressionism Movement


Abstract Expressionism was an American post-World War II art movement. The World War led many influential European artists to leave their war torn countries to travel to America. This led to a dramatic increase in the exposure American artists got to European Modernism and other art movements such as Surrealism and Dada, which where the main influences to the movement.

The art movement received its name from the combination of the emotional intensity of the German Expressionists and the anti-figurative design of certain European Abstract art schools. The name was mainly applied to the artists working in New York in the 1940-50s, also sometimes called the ‘New York School’, and was first used to define American art in 1946 by the art critic Robert Coates. However, the name was applied to artists who had quite different styles and was even applied to work that is not especially abstract nor expressionist.

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Despite the huge diversity of Abstract Expressionism, the movement can be split into two main categories, Action painting, and Colour Field painting. Action painting, sometimes called “gestural abstraction”, is a style of non-representational painting in which paint is spontaneously dribbled, splashed or smeared onto the canvas, rather than being carefully applied. The resulting work often emphasizes the physical act of painting itself as an essential aspect of the finished work or concern of its artist. In contrast, Colour Field painting is characterized by canvases being covered entirely by large fields of solid colour. Abstract Expressionism was the first specifically American movement to achieve worldwide influence and also put New York City at the center of the art world, a role formerly filled by Paris.

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Jackson Pollock

The youngest of five sons, Pollock was born in Cody, Wyoming in 1912, and grew up in Arizona and California, studying at Los Angeles’ Manual Arts High School. In 1930, following his brother Charles, he moved to New York City, where they both studied under Thomas Hart Benton at the Art Students League.

Pollock was introduced to the use of liquid paint in 1936, at an experimental workshop operated in New York City by the Mexican muralist David Alfaro Siqueiros. He later used paint pouring as one of several techniques in canvases of the early 1940s, such as “Male and Female” and “Composition with Pouring I.” In October 1945 Pollock married his long-term lover Lee Krasner and in November they moved to what is now known as the Pollock-Krasner House and Studio in Springs on Long Island, New York.

Peggy Guggenheim loaned them the down payment for the wood-frame house with a nearby barn that Pollock made into a studio. It was there that he perfected the technique of working spontaneously with liquid paint. After his move to Springs, he began painting with his canvases laid out on the studio floor and developed what was later called his “drip” technique, although “pouring” is a more accurate description of his method.

He used hardened brushes, sticks and even basting syringes as paint applicators. Pollock’s technique of pouring and dripping paint is thought to be one of the origins of the term action painting. After struggling with alcoholism his whole life, Pollock’s career was cut short when he died in an alcohol-related, single-car crash less than a mile from his home in Springs, New York on August 11, 1956 at the age of 44. One of his passengers, Edith Metzger, died, and the other passenger in the Oldsmobile convertible, Ruth Kligman, survived. After his death, his wife Lee Krasner managed his estate and ensured that his reputation remained strong in spite of changing art-world trends. They are buried in Green River Cemetery in Springs with a large boulder marking his grave and a smaller one marking hers.

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Blue Poles is an abstract painting from 1952 by Jackson Pollock, more properly known as Blue Poles: Number 11, 1952. It is similar to other drip paintings by Pollock, with the addition of eight large vertical blue “poles” placed over the top. It is owned by the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra. I think that the painting is a reflection of Pollock’s fight with alcoholism. It reveals feelings of anger and resentment in its chaotic format and expresses a desire to change in its hectic and frenzied style.

The blue ‘poles’ could also resemble the times that he was sober, as they are clear, planned, and regular, with the rest of the painting resembling him in a drunken state, as they are confused and disordered.

Clifford Still

Still was born in Grandin, North Dakota. In the late 1920s and early 1930s, he studied at Spokane University in Washington, graduating in art in 1933. He taught at the Spokane Art Center, a Federal Art Project during the Great Depression; and at Washington State University.

After working in California from 1941 to 1943, Still’s first solo exhibition came in 1943 at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. It was only a few years later, however, after he had met Mark Rothko and had a solo show hosted by Peggy Guggenheim, that he developed the style for which he is now best known. In 1946 he took a job at the California School of Fine Arts in San Francisco but moved back to New York City in 1950. A retrospective of his work was shown in Buffalo, New York before he moved once more in 1961, this time to a farm near Westminster, Maryland, where he remained for most of the rest of his life, largely cut-off from the rest of the art-world.

Still was one of the foremost “color field” painters – his paintings are non-figurative, and largely concerned with juxtaposing different colours in a variety of formations. However, while Mark Rothko and Barnett Newman organized their colours in a relatively simple way (Rothko in the form of nebulous rectangles, Newman in thin lines on vast fields of colour), Still’s arrangements are less regular. His jagged flashes of colour give the impression that one layer of colour has been “torn” off the painting, revealing the colours underneath. Another point of difference between Newman and Rothko is the way the paint is laid on the canvas. Rothko and Newman used fairly flat colours and relatively thin paint while Still used a thick impasto, causing subtle variations in shade across the painting.

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Among Still’s better-known paintings is 1957-D No. 1 (1957) which is mainly black and yellow with patches of white and a small amount of red.. 1957-D No. 1 uses black as the main colour, and uses very sharp and clear lines to define the shapes within the painting. These elements within the painting create a feeling of intimidation and trepidation. The painting also resembles some kind of monster which only reinforces the feelings of fear.

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