Research – Abstract Expressionism

Working on the emotive marks exercises lead me to research how artists had used similar emotions in their works.  After conducting google searches and browsing through various articles I was lead to research abstract expressionism more.

Abstract expressionism was characterised by being expressive art of profound emotion and was around in the 1930s, 40s and 50s although the term was first used in 1919 by the German magazine ‘Der Strum’ to describe the non-representational abstract works of the German Expressionists.  In the 1940s the term was mainly applied to a group of artists working in New York and was part of the movement that led New York to become a leader in the world of art.

What particularly interests me about the movement is the link between the psychoanalytic ideas of Freud and Jung and the artists’ work.  Throughout the movement are strong links between the mind and art and as someone who has a mental health condition this is something I want to build upon in my own work as I progress through this course.

Key artists from this movement include: Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline and Hans Hofmann.

Artists like Willem de Kooning are interesting as his style emphasises the expression of the brush strokes themselves:


In Woman 1 (1950-52, oil on canvas, 193 cm x 147 cm, MOMA New York) this expressive brush stroke is emphasised clearly with strong, angry almost violent brush strokes evident.  There is a sense of urgency in the strokes and you get an image of him standing at the easel applying the paint in an angry rushed manner.  He was described as an ‘action’ painter and according to source she sought to undercover fundamental truths that resided in the unconscious mind.

The other style that countered action painting was ‘colour field painting’ and was typified by Mark Rothko.  The aim to fully immerse the viewer in a saturated field of colour.  This style also appeals greatly to me as I have always found great satisfaction in experimenting with colour and how it can produce emotions within people.  As a scientist, I find colour theory and production fascinating and through art I equally find it fascinating.

Mark Rothko’s Untitled (Black on Grey) (1970, acrylic on canvas, 203 cm x 176 cm, National Gallery of Art, Washington DC) fascinates me, again from a mental health perspective as well as an artistic one.


Rothko was a master of abandoning all recognisable imagery and focusing just on the use of colour as the only expressive media.  When you see Black on Grey you immediately think of dark thoughts, depression, bleak landscapes.  To me it reminds me of an alien environment with no hope for life surviving.  Having had severe depressive episodes myself I can empathise with this bleakness and hopelessness this painting expresses.

Both the use of colour and the use of expressive brush strokes are areas I want to explore further in my own work.

Sources of Information:

Book – ‘Art The Whole Story’ Edited by Stephen Farthing, 2010