Abstract Expressionism is an art movement that emerged in New York City after World War II. It was the first American art movement to gain international recognition and played an important part in putting New York at the center of the art world in the 20th century, dethroning Paris in that sense.
The famous Abstract Expressionist Artists drew a lot of inspiration from the Surrealist artists, an art movement that is considered to be a predecessor of Abstract Expressionism. The main reason is that the painters and sculptors of this movement used emotional intensity and spontaneity in order to create abstract works of art.
The term was first used to describe the movement in 1946. Its peak was all throughout the 1940s and 1950s, even though this term had emerged way before that. It was first used to describe works of Expressionist artists in Germany in the year 1919 and again a decade later in 1929 to describe works by Wassily Kandinsky, a man considered to be the pioneer of abstract art.
So who were the most renowned artists of this particular art movement? Let’s take a closer look!
Famous Abstract Expressionist Artists
1. Jackson Pollock
Jackson Pollock (1912-1956) was an American painter and is considered to be one of the main figures of the Abstract Expressionist movement. He created a new technique of painting in which he put his canvases on the floor and splashed paint onto it, a technique referred to as the “drip technique,” all-over painting, or action painting.
Regardless of the critics of his methods, his paintings have been in high demand. One of his paintings referred to as “Number 17A” has been sold for a whopping $200 million USD in 2016. Despite his major influence in the world of art, Pollock struggled with alcoholism for the most part of his adult life. This eventually cost him his life when he got into a car accident while driving drunk at the age of 44.
2. Mark Rothko
Mark Rothko (1903-1970) was born “Markus Yakovlevich Rothkowitz” and was another American painter who was of Latvian Jewish descent. After originally immigrating from Russia to Portland, Oregon, he ended up settling in New York City. He was the pioneer of an abstract genre of painting referred to as “color field painting.” This style revolves around putting together rectangular fields of color in an irregular manner.
He didn’t start out painting his most famous works using his own developed style, but with the urban scenery of the New York City streets. This changed after World War II until he eventually ended up spending the final two decades of his life perfecting his remarkable abstract technique. Unfortunately, he took his own life in the year 1970 after living a very humble existence, which was in sheer contrast to the high value of his paintings today.
3. Franz Kline
Franz Kline (1919-1962) was another painter of the so-called “New York School,” an informal group of artists who were associated with the Abstract Expressionism Movement. Kline was born in a small town called Wilkes-Barre in Eastern Pennsylvania. After an extended academic education, he ended up studying at the Heatherley School of Fine Art in London.
He didn’t start out as an independent artist though as he worked several jobs in design before developing his own distinct techniques. He also became a teacher in various colleges and universities before passing away from rheumatic heart disease in his early 50s. His work has been highly regarded ever since the 1950s and several of his paintings have been sold for millions of dollars.
4. Willem de Kooning
Willem de Kooning (1904-1997) was born in Rotterdam and moved to the United States in his early 20s and eventually became a U.S. citizen in the year 1962. He was one of the pioneers of the art movement and eventually became one of the most successful and famous Abstract Expressionist artists in history, together with his wife Elaine, a member of the editorial staff of Art News magazine.
His early works included various abstract still-lifes which were clearly influenced by painters of earlier generations, including but not limited to Mondrian and Pablo Picasso. He developed his own distinctive style after World War II and many of his works have been sold for record prizes, including a work called “interchange” from 1955 which was sold for $300 million USD, a record at the time and still one of the most valuable paintings on display today!
5. Barnett Newman
Barnett Newman (1905-1970) was another American artist and a pioneer of the color field painters. He was an early member of the Uptown Group, also referred to as the “The Art of This Century gallery” in New York City, an art gallery set up by Peggy Guggenheim, one of the most renowned art collectors in the world in the 1930s and 1940s.
His paintings were almost solely completely abstract and were often untitled. His work is associated with Abstract Expressionism but has also been labeled as a precursor of post-painterly abstraction and minimalism as it didn’t feature any expressive brushwork. Regardless of the legacy after his death, he remained unappreciated until after it. He did however influence many young artists of later generations, including Donald Judd, Frank Stella, and Bob Law.
6. Jasper Johns
Jasper Johns (born 1930) is an American painter, sculptor, and printmaker, who is associated with a number of art movements. The most prominent ones are Abstract Expressionism, neo-Dada, and pop art. Because of his extended successful career, he has received many honors including the National Medal of Arts in 1990 and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011.
His most famous works are depictions of the American flag and various other culturally significant American symbols. One of his works simply referred to as “Flag” and which he created in 1954 at the age of 24 sold for a record $110 million USD in 2010. This was just one of many of his works that were credited as “most paid for a work by a living artist.”