I was lucky enough to see the Abstract Expressionism Exhibition that was on at The Royal Academy of Arts last year where I got to see master paintings by some of my favourite artists from The New York school such as Franz Kline and Mark Rothko. It was incredible seeing a collection of Franz Kline’s work in person and then being able to see a wall of Clyfford Still paintings in the next room – the exhibition was immense having such a huge amount of significant work all in one gallery.
So without going too in-depth into Abstract Expressionism (you and I would be here all day otherwise) visually, Abstract Expressionism art is powered by size and fields of colour. The spontaneity of the brush strokes and intense flatness of colour evoke instinctual feelings, from ecstasy to the sublime and tragedy to nothingness.
Abstract Expressionist artists express emotions consciously or subconsciously in the way in which they paint. 1. You interpret the how artist was feeling at the time of him painting the work 2. You interpret what the artist wants you to feel from the painting. Obviously these two points of interpretation do cross over but they are good starting point in understanding the distinction between some of the artists from the New York School. ‘Action painters’ like Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning fall within the first interpretation where as Mark Rothko the second.
Franz Kline who considered himself as an action painter was problematic for critics at the time as he does not neatly fall into the typical ‘action painter’ group. He extensively explored his sketches before letting the brush touch the canvas. He creates the illusion in his work that they were created through a moment of inspiration, but in fact his harmonious strokes of black against white are well thought out. Kline’s smooth, calligraphic strokes imbue shapes and forms that can be interpreted. The forms and their impression of velocity translate into an experience of structure and presence that can be felt by the viewer. Before his death in 1962 Kline started to use colour in his paintings, some of which I have included here.
‘People sometimes think I take a white canvas and paint a black sign on it, but this is not true. I paint the white as well as the black, and the white is just as important’