Abstract Expressionism

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Introduction to Abstract Expressionism

Abstract Expressionism started in America as a post World War II art movement. It was the first art movement that arose from America and put New York at the center of the art world. The term Abstract Expressionism was first applied to American art in 1946 by art critic Robert Coates. It is most commanly said that Surealism is it's predecessor because of the use of spontaneous, automatic and subconscious creations. Abstract Expressionism gets its name from the combining of emotional intensity and self-expression of German Expressionists and the anti-figurative aesthetics of abstract schools where Futurism, Bauhaus and Synthetic Cubism came from. The term Abstract Expressionism was applied to any number of the artists in New York who each had quite different styles, such as Pollock's "action paintings" which had a very busy feel to it, which was different both technically and aesthetically to Willem de Kooning's grotesque "women's series", which was rather violent and not particularly abstract, and Mark Rothko's block work which was not very expressionistic, but yet all three were classified as Abstract Expressionists.

Still although different in many ways they still share many similar aspects such as the use of large canvases, an "all over approach" in which the whole canvas is treated equally, every part of the canvas is important, quality of brushstrokes and textures, the use of accidents that play an important role to the entire work and the attempt to express pure emotion directly onto a canvas.

The early Abstract Expressionists went in seek for a timeless and powerful subject matter, and started looking at primitive myth and archaic art for inspiration. Most of the early Abstract Expressionists looked at ancient and primitive cultures for inspiration. The earliest works included pictographic and biomorphic elements referred into personal code. In a famous letter published in the New York Times in June 1943 by Gottlieb and Rothko which was assisted by Newman, said "To us, art is an adventure into an unknown world of the imagination which is fancy- free and violently opposed to comman sense. There is no such thing as a good painting about nothing. We assert that the subject is critical.". This just says that there is basically always a deeper meaning to a painting and if there is none then it is not a good painting. They draw away from comman sense and subject matter is very important. This also adds emphasis on how art relates to a specific period in time, and what inspires it, or what reaction art has against or for an event that is happening at that time.

Mark Rothko

Mark Rothko born September 25 1903 and died in February 25 1970. He was an Abstract Expressionist but denies that his work is abstract. He was born as Marcus Rothkowitz in Russia and the emigrated to the United States in 1916.

His work was based on basic emotions and mainly filling his canvases with few but intense colours using little detail. He also combined mythical themes with primordial imagery in order to express universal experiences. In this time his paintings showed biomorphic shapes that float within an atmospheric haze. Although other artists were inspired by him his work was still frowned upon by others that did not understand it and so had to support himself by teaching art. Rothko became known for his large murals for different buildings and public places where it was displayed such as "The Rothko Chapel" a church in Houston, Texas. Rothko's work was secretly supported by The "CIA" which considered it "free enterprise painting". Rothko committed suicide in 1970 as he suffered from depression in his New York studio.

Untitled (Violet, Black, Orange, Yellow on White and Red)

Mark Rothko, Untitled (Violet, Black, Orange, Yellow on White and Red), 1949. Oil on canvas, 81 1/2 x 66 inches. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Gift, Elaine and Werner Dannheisser and The Dannheisser...
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