Abstract Expressionism – Royal Academy

Jackson Pollock, Blue poles, 1952. Enamel and aluminium paint with glass on canvas, 212.1 x 488.9 cm. National Gallery of Australia, Canberra. © The Pollock-Krasner Foundation ARS, NY and DACS, London 2016.

Don’t miss the Royal Academy’s fantastic new blockbuster exhibition. Abstract Expressionism was the first all-American art movement or, as the RA explain, “art phenomena” – not a ‘Movement’ in the usual sense of the word as the artists had no collective style, no manifesto, and were not even uniform in their adherence to abstraction. The artists are joined by time, background (having lived through a deeply troubled era which included The Great Depression, and the 2nd World War), interest in expressive use of paint, and size of artwork – many are enormous, taking inspiration from the epic natural landscapes (although this can be hard to see).

Expressionism was an art movement which began in Germany from the early 1900s – the Expressionist artists wanted to paint about emotions – anger, joy, fear, worry, peacefulness. To express emotion they often exaggerated colour and distorted shapes – we can see this legacy in many of the artworks in the exhibition – a good example of Expressionist art is Munch’s angst-ridden Scream. The idea of expressing emotion through colour was not entirely new – van Gogh used colour in this way too, but it was first named as a Movement in Germany in the early 1900’s.

The key artists in the exhibition are:

Jackson Pollock (1912-1956) – action / drip painting
Mark Rothko (1903-1970) – colour-field paintings (large blocks of few colours)
Willem de Kooning (1904-1997) – bright, layered, vibrant part-abstracted women
Barnett Newman (1905-1970) – “zip” paintings
Arshile Gorky (1904-1948) – flowing shapes and colours

Jackson Pollock invented ‘Action Painting’ – his canvases are full of drips, lines, splodges and thicker lumps of paint, applied to canvases laid flat on the floor from holes cut in cans of paint swung over the canvas, splattered, spread on with trowels, printed, thrown and foot-printed to build up the picture.

Mark Rothko’s giant immersive colour-field paintings are “one of the hearts of the exhibition”. Rothko aimed to create an intense experience of colour – an art we can lose ourselves in – in his words “silence is so eloquent”

Willelm de Kooning fused Expressionism, Surrealism and Expressionism in a whirling vibrancy of colour and line – although he began as an abstract artist he is best known for his series of women, painted throughout his life, a number of which are in the exhibition.

Arshile Gorky was a key figure – an Armenian immigrant he brought a deep understanding of art history – his artwork fused elements of cubism and surrealism and opened the door to Abstract Expressionism.

click here for more details: Abstract Expressionism – The Royal Academy