Abstract Expressionism


“It seems to me that the modern painter cannot express this age, the airplane, the atom bomb, the radio, in the old forms of the Renaissance or of any other past culture.” —Jackson Pollock

Abstract Expressionism signaled a new age of American artistic expression in the immediate postwar period (the late 1940s and 1950s). Though never a formal movement or school, “AbEx” grouped together artists—including Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko, and Clyfford Still, amongst others—with interest in spontaneity, monumental size, the individual psyche, and universal expressions of feeling. Historically, AbEx has been broken into two tendencies: Gestural Abstraction (or Action Painting), which emphasized the energy of the painter’s mark, and Color Field Painting, which focused on the creation of vast, seemingly floating areas of color. The rise of Abstract Expressionism has been attributed to the influence of European movements like Cubism and Surrealism, which reached New York in the 1930s and ’40s via museum exhibitions, academic institutions, and the stateside relocation of many major European artists due to World War II.

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