Abstract Expressionism. Exhibition at the Royal Academy 

This was a fascinating and far-reaching exhibition covering the ideas behind the development of Abstract Expressionism with rooms dedicated to individual artists including Jackson Pollock,  Mark Rothco,  Willem de Kooning, and Clyfford Still.

I was very interested in how the Abstract Expressionists were a supportive group. While their artistic directions were often very different,  they supported each other’s ideas. Their art was inspired by Picasso and the surrealists but they took it in new directions.

Arshile Gorky was one artist whose knowledge of art history fed into the ideas of Abstract Expressionism.

The Limit 1947. Arshile Gorky.

This is a large canvas and I love the colours and space in the image.

Water of the Flowery Mill. 1944. Arshile Gorky

Gorky took the ideas of the cubists and surrealists and took them in a new direction which influenced the Abstract Expressionists.

Jackson Pollock put himself in the picture with his physical interaction with the canvas. “Pollock’s aim to work directly from his unconscious led to a radical process of dripping and pouring paint over large canvases placed flat on the ground. The rhythms in Summertime reflect his belief that ‘The modern artist … is working and expressing an inner world – in other words expressing the energy, the motion, and other inner forces’.” Tate Modern website

Summertime. 1948. Jackson Pollock

Clyfford Still and Barnett Newman followed a similar path to each other with large colour-saturated canvases which drew the observer in to an abstract inner world.

PH 247. 1951. Clyfford Still.
Midnight blue. 1970. Barnett Newman.

I love Mark Rothko’s pulsing canvases which seem to be gateways to a different place. However, Untitled  (black on grey) 1969/70 was incredibly bleak.

Mark Rothko. Untitled. (Black on Grey) 1969/70

Were the Abstract Expressionists given to depression? Their art came from a desire to take the inner world and give it an expression. While Rothko and Gorky committed suicide other Abstract Expressionists like Joan Mitchell (whose monumental work Salut Tom was a striking end to the exhibition) and Clyfford Still worked to the end of their long and seemingly enjoyable lives painting ravishing explorations of colour and emotion.

Salut Tom, 1979
Salut Tom. 1979. Joan Mitchell





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