Abstract Expressionism, Action Painting and Contemporary Art
Long hailed as the leader in modern art, Paris would take 2nd place to New York during the emergence of a new contemporary art movement that flourished in the 40’s and 50’s. Many European artists fled Europe to escape political unrest and fascist regimes in the 1930’s, bringing with them strong Surrealist ideologies and methods. Surrealism with its focus on the unconscious, would inspire American artists and encourage artistic experimentation with myths and symbols that is inherent in Abstract Expressionism.
Abstract Expressionists came to view painting as a struggle between self-expression and the untapped chaos of the unconscious. The visual representation of personal experience was the ultimate goal of each artistic piece. There were two commonly viewed styles of Abstract Expressionism, which include action painting and color field painting.
With action painting, artists either focused on gestural application of paint, or used large areas of color as the basis of their compositions. Art Critic Harold Rosenberg coined this term to describe the process artist Jackson Pollock used by dripping paint on canvases spread on the floor of his studio. Conceptually, action painting viewed the painted object as the byproduct of an artistic process, which is the immediate expression of the artist’s identity. The artistic process, not the painted object, is the true work of art because it is tied to inner self-expression.
Through color field painting, a pervasive depiction of intense color was embraced at the cost of all figuration. Rather than focusing on symbols, color field painters focused on the expressive power of color, and hoped to create modern, mythic art that would connect with primordial emotions. The goal was to birth a style that would do away with the suggestion of illustration and figuration.
Modern artists and art movements have been greatly influenced by Abstract Expressionism. Paintings and abstract art prints by artists like Ad Reinhardt and Frank Stella depict the borrowed concepts of Abstract Expressionism.