The rise of A New York art movement that was later going to be called Abstract Expressionism happens in the 1950s, when there seemed to be a diminished interest in the serigraph among serious artists. The artists using the medium appeared to focus on technical mastery rather than content, and their images were more or less confined to a regional realism—except for Jackson Pollock and Hans Hofmann, who did a few screen prints. The general decline in interest appears to have reached even those early enthusiasts from the WPA days, ending the National Serigraph Society in 1962.
Abstract Expressionism was born from the common experience of artists living in 1940s New York. Two World Wars, the Great Depression, atomic devastation and an ensuing Cold War prompted early works reflecting the darkness of these times, and fed into the movement’s concerns with contemplation, expression and freedom.
In the “age of anxiety” surrounding the Second World War and the years of free jazz and Beat poetry, artists like Pollock, Rothko and de Kooning broke from accepted conventions to unleash a new confidence in painting. New York had taken over from Paris as the capital of the art world.
Abstract expressionists – explored the cosmic energy, the subconscious mind. They danced over the huge canvases and dripped paint and cigarette ashes over the paintings in what looked like a ritual dance. The idea was that the subconscious mind and the universe directed their movement and revealed the cosmic energy in the painting. Some abstract expressionist artist’s combined childlike forms and saturated colours suggesting a sense of optimism and innocence. Although people may say that, Pollock’s paintings follow some mathematical rules when analysed, it is true that the style presented large-scale works containing forms not found in the natural world.
Often monumental in scale, their works are at times intense, spontaneous and deeply expressive. At others they are more contemplative, presenting large fields of colour that border on the sublime. These radical creations redefined the nature of painting, and were intended not simply to be admired from a distance but as two-way encounters between artist and viewer.
Scale is a trademark of Abstract Expressionism. Abstract Expressionist art invites artist and viewer to meet. While the artist expresses their emotions and conveys a sense of their presence in the work, the viewer’s perception is the final component in the mix. Abstract painting “confronts you”, Pollock said in 1950. Meanwhile David Smith’s sculptures were designed to be viewed in the openness of the outdoors. Jackson Pollock’s rejected the idea that a painting should have a central focal point, instead embracing the “all-over composition”. The same was true of the colour field paintings of artists such as Mark Rothko and Ad Reinhardt. Each of the artists had their own unique style and did not appear to follow a set formula. This diversity is a celebration of the individual artist’s freedom to express themselves.