Abstract Impressionism

Abstract Impressionism is an art movement originating in New York City in the 1940’s. This was the first American movement to gain worldwide recognition, and put New York at the center of the art world; an achievement formerly awarded to Paris. Robert Coates coined the term ‘abstract impressionism’ in 1946 in one of his critiques of the new artwork. The most important predecessor of abstract impressionism is Surrealism, which also emphasizes spontaneous and subconscious creation. The name of this period reflects the combination of unique self expression with emotional intensity, and contrasts the ideas or Futurism and Cubism.

Abstract Impressionism is a form of art where the artist expresses himself through the use of form and color, with no objective representations. The movement can be divided into two groups: the Action Painting expressed by artists like Pollock and De Kooning; and Color Field Painting practiced by Rothko and Noland. Famous artists of this movement include Pollock, Gorky, Riopelle, Rothko, de Kooning, Motherwell, and Kline; their works possess very different moods and subjects, yet share qualities such as sizable canvasses, flat compositions, and the fact that all areas of the piece are filled with movement and paint (instead of creating a focal point, or an area of the most interest).

Action Art

The term ‘Action Art’ or ‘Action Painting’ was coined initially by Harold Rosenberg, one of the most vocal proponents of the Abstract Expressionist movement. He was know for his strong criticism of society, political issues and art – opposing the views of formalist critic Clement Greenberg. Action art represents unconventional techniques of applying paint to canvas including splashing, slashing, and dribbling. Action painters believed that the actual expressive act of painting held the power of the artwork, versus the finished product. Harold Rosenberg describes the action painting movement as being ‘not a picture but an event’. One of the leading artists of this art period was Jackson Pollock who used the drip and splatter technique on many of his canvasses. Many critics will agree that the attraction to Pollock’s art is energy and drama that it radiates. It is hard to tell how much of Jackson Pollock’s art is planned and how much is left to chance and flying paint. Another action painter, William Green, used a bicycle in the production of his art. He’d ride over the canvas on a bike, whereas other similar artists like those in the Gutai Group from Japan painted with their feet as they hung from ropes. Art critics have been divided about the actual worth and purpose of action art / action painting. Nevertheless action art is a noticeable subsection of Abstract Expressionism, and was an important precursor to later techniques like Spin Art and Disruptive Painting.

Jackson Pollock

Paul Jackson Pollock was born in Cody, Wyoming in 1912, and studied at the Manual Arts High School (1928), and the Art Students League in New York (1930). Pollock’s instructor in New York, Thomas Hart Benton, was a continual support through Pollock’s career. Artists that influenced Pollock and were respected by him included Jose Clemente Orozco, Pablo Picasso and Diego Rivera. Surrealism, the precursor to abstract impressionism, also greatly influenced the artist. Pollock’s first solo show was held in 1943 at the Guggenheim, where he received a contract until 1947. This contract allowed the artist to devote all his time to painting, and we can see that his works moved away from figurative styles and more into abstract techniques, and abstract impressionism. Pollock is renowned for his splashing and dripping paint onto a canvas, which gave him the nickname ‘Jack the Dripper’. After completing his contract at the Guggenheim, he was supported by the CIA via the Congress for Cultural Freedom. Pollock died in a car accident in 1956.