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Transcript of Abstract Expressionism
Atom Bomb - 1945 Nagasaki & Hiroshima
Jackson Pollock, De Kooning, Barnett Newman, Ashile Gorky, Robert Motherwell Lee Krasner, Clifford Still,Mark Rothko
McCarthyism and the Cold War
There was a climate of fear in America where conformity ruled and policies were excessive.American & immigrant artists were needing to express the anxieties which had become their experience in post war America.
An american Senator called Joseph McCarthy started holding inquisition style trials of people accused of being communists, communist sympathisers or just more socialist in their politics and activities than the government cared for.
It was a perceived threat of Communism, from the Eastern Bloc countries like Russia, infiltrating American values of democracy which resulted in a hysterical paranoia later described as the ‘cold war’.
There was hostility with Russia without actual physical fighting and in America surveillance of communist suspects and sympathisers and repression was everywhere.
Artists & intellectuals flee from Europe due to WW2. Paris could no longer be the capital of art due to Nazi invasion. Pre-war abstract artists had emigrated to NewYork including:
America in the 40's
describes a type of painting, drawing or sculpture which tries to represent the real or imagined qualities of objects or people by using shapes, lines and colour, and does not try to show their outer appearance as it would be seen in a photograph
a style of art, music or writing, found especially in the 1900s, which expresses people's states of mind
Edvard Munch's "The Scream" is a famous Expressionist painting.
The American Great Depression yielded two popular art movements: Regionalism and Social Realism. The artists who became Abstract expressionists were not satisfied by these art forms and hoped to find an art form rich with meaning and full of social responsibility, yet free of provincialism and explicit politics. The Great Depression also brought about the development of government relief programs, including the Works Progress Administration (WPA), a jobs program for unemployed Americans. Many of the artists involved in Abstract Expressionism were also invloved with the WPA and this helped to them establish their career paths.
Source: Abstract Expressionism | Thematic Essay | Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History | The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Ben Shahn, Scabbies are welcome, Tempera on paper laid on panel, 1937
by Grant Wood
Dorothea Lange, "Destitute peapickers in California; a 32 year old mother of seven children. February 1936
In 1932 Rockefeller asked if he would be interested in painting a mural in the Radio Corporation Arts Building in Rockefeller Center. Interestingly, Picasso and Matisse were also asked but both refused the offer. Rivera himself initially rejected the invitation. But Rockefeller finally persuaded Rivera to accept
In 1933, Rivera began his work. The painting, Man at the Crossroads, was to depict the social, political, industrial, and scientific possibilities of the twentieth century. In the painting, Rivera included a scene of a giant May Day demonstration of workers marching with red banners with the clear portrait of Lenin leading the demonstration.
Rockefeller showed his concern over Rivera including a portrait of the Russian revolutionary leader in his mural. Nelson Rockefeller told Rivera that while the portrait was beautifully painted, it might easily offend a great many people. He asked the painter to remove Lenin’s face and substitute it with some unknown man. Rivera’s assistants told him that if he removed the head of Lenin, they would go on strike. Rivera agreed with his assistants and told Rockefeller that Lenin’s head would stay but that he would be glad to add the head of some great American leader, such as Lincoln, to another section of the mural.
As both sides could not reach an agreement, he was ordered to stop and the painting was covered and destroyed in February of 1934. That same year, Rivera used the money from the Rockefellers to create a mural for the Independent Labor Institute that had Lenin as its central figure.
Franz Marc, Fighting Forms, 1914
They were partly inspired by the epic regionalist landscapes of America and needed and developed a large format to express these concepts of vastness.
Through Expressionist influences, a group of American artists mostly from the New York School, developed abstract approaches to painting and sculpture which although diverse in style and medium, shared common American influences and beliefs.
Painting and sculpture in these abstract formats became known as the American Abstract Expressionism and took place after the 2nd world war ending 1945, and continued through the rest of the 1940 s and 1950 s.
Brison on the brink of chason, 1944
Their ideas and theories of psychic ‘automatism”, where chance association and random doodling lead to an unconscious response by the artist, accessed repressed images and creativity, which may be relayed to the viewer of the artwork.
Joan Mirô,The Tilled Field, 1923-24
American artists had also been influenced by seeing exhibited work of European avant-garde artists, like the surrealist Joan Mirô. He had been moving into abstract painting using biomorphic forms and was partly influenced by in associations of the mind.
Some other European surrealist artists had taken sanctuary in American during the 2nd world war including the French Surrealist writers and artists such as Max Ernst, Andre Masson, Yves Tanguy and Kurt Seligman & Dali who met and influenced some of the Abstract Expressionists.
There was a perceived threat of Communism, from the Eastern Bloc countries like Russia, Cuba & China, infiltrating American values of democracy and this resulted in a paranoia later described as the ‘cold war’.
There was hostility with Russia without actual physical fighting . In America surveillance of communist sympathisers and repression of socialist ideas was everywhere.
The Cold War
Karl Jung’s psychoanalytical theories of the collective unconscious, were also being studied at this time and by some of the abstract expressionists. These were theories which when applied to artwork, would suggest or evoke universal symbols and myths as an unconscious response in the viewer. In an early work by Jackson Pollock called ‘Guardians of the Secret’ 1943 you can see influence from Native American traditions of totemic images.
Armenian- American immigrant,
The Liver is the Cock’s Comb, 1944
William De Kooning, Dutch immigrant to America,
Woman V , 1952-53
Pancho Dead and Alive, 1943
Jackson Pollock- all over paintings
Barnett Newman- Vir Heroicus Sublimis 1950-1, oil on canvas
Ochre and Red on Red, 1954, oil on canvas.
The Abstract Expressionists needed a way of expressing their feelings of alienation and loss of self in an era of despair and anxiety, post holocaust and amidst nuclear weapon proliferation and use.
Existentialist philosophies from Europe stressed the need to take responsibility for one’s own existence and the American artists looked to express the relationship between self and existence (one’s being) in their large format works- overwhelming the viewer standing before the paintings.
Barnett Newman’s canvases were large monochrome colour fields intersected with a vertical strip of an alternative,lighter colour which he termed ‘zips’
Rothko’s painting was a way to incorporate archetypal imagery with a strong sense of theatre. The large almost stage-like planes of colour are scaled up to human size so they evoked ‘presence’. The colour rectangles, soft-edged are stacked vertically up the canvas.
So the abstract expressionists used the fundamental aspects of painting - gesture, form colour, texture - for their expressive and symbolic potential.
Like the Surrealists, they saw artists as alienated from the mainstream society, morally compelled to create a new type of work which might address a dysfunctional world.
It was a very white male orientated movement with women abstract expressionists being regarded as artists wives before their paintings and writings. Lee Krasner was married to Pollock, and an artist in her own right – but often neglected in the story of Abstract Expressionism.
Abstract Expressionist art was used as a way to try to promote American democracy abroad. Works were to be exhibited in Europe to distinguish America internationally in England, Paris and Venice.
The American Government wanted their country to be seen as a sophisticated and a broad minded country in apparent contrast to the Russian Totalitarian regime.
The artists involved included Gorky & Pollock, and despite their own left wing politics in some cases, were used as cultural warriors for American government in the cold war, their works being used to promote the American Dream.
The artworks were to be emblematic of freedom of expression in the face of repression of people and artists in Russia.
Promoting America Abroad
conflict for the second time in world war 2 and the witnessing of extermination of millions people in the holocaust ending in 1945.
followed by nuclear devastation of the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by their own government in 1945 which ended the war.
Colour Field Painting