Abstract expressionism & minimalism

American style

post war abstraction– 

Abstract Expressionism

Franzkline New York 1953

-Expression through line and the large scale of the brush strokes and paintings ( important factor to the movement)

– looks like a structure of some sort and evokes the feelings of looking at structures in America

– The colour scheme is monochromatic and gives us a high contrast


Timescale: mid 1940’s – late 50’s


– During and post world war 2, first nuclear bomb used

– lots of European emigres in NY

– post great depression of 1929-39)

– the cold war 1945-80

– federal arts project 1935-43

  • Main artists: Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Willem De Kooning, Franz Klein, Robert Motherwell, Barnett Newman, Clifford Still, Lee Krazner

-All the artists moved to America from Paris because of the war, just after the american depression. They had the chance to set up their own American movement and create these big paintings to fill the streets and brighten the area, which they were being paid to do in teams rather than individual artists allowing them to exchange ideas to create this new movement. –

Themes and Concerns:

– Existentialism

-Synthesis of styles

– Surrealism- but a rejection of freud

– Jung and the ‘collective unconscious’

– The sublime (overwhelming of the senses like you’re blown away)

– Profound emotion, introspection and universal themes

– Reflects post-war anxiety and trauma

– Interested in myths and archetypal symbols ( things that occur in myths and fiction like a Princess, Prince, Witch, Evil step mum, Horse etc.)

– 2 types of abstract expressionism

  •        Gestural (action) paintings
  •        Colour field painting


Pollock, Summer time 1948

– Large scale

– busy

– Curved lines

– Limited colour Palette

– Abstract

– Flowing

– organic lines


Franz Kline, the chief 1950

– High speed of a train

– movement

– what he remembers as a kid from being and looking out of a train


Robert Motherwell, Elegy to the spanish Republic 54 (1957-61)

– life and death contrast using the black and white


-looks 3D

– The gap at the bottom of the image makes it 3 Dimensional with depth if it wasn’t there it looks more flat


Willem De Kooning, Woman 1 1950-52

– Cluttered

– Filled

– Flat

– Colourful

– Bold

– Thick brush strokes

– Clashing

– Complementary

– Out of proportion

– Motherhood?

– He was exploring the archetypal woman: women look beautiful traditionally in paintings (passive) in art but this one is the opposite in the way he’s made it look ugly and quite terrifying. Representing a pin up girl of the 1950s and rejects the traditional passiveness of women.


Colour Field Painting

Clyfford Still, Indian red and black

– We can only talk about the image in terms of formal elements therefore we can only agree on line, colour, shape etc. this was due to Clyfford’s idea that the painting could look like anything like animal pattern, peeling paint on a wall or anything that it could look like and therefore you are only able to agree that the painting is based on formal elements.


Rothko, Four darks in red 1958

– deep

– one of the most famous abstract expressionism

– been through a lot of paintins before he made this one

– evokes emotion

– big blocks of colour


Rothko, untitled 1969

– Moon landings depiction, a response to the images of the first ever pictures of the moon landings

– If you look at the images and the painting together they look almost the same


Rothko, Mural for End wall (untitled) 1959

-painted for seagram mural restaurant

– He was asked to paint it for the restaurant and got paid to do so. However after he finished the painting he went to the restaurant to check out how it would look in there and after that decided it wouldn’t fit in or look good there and the people that ate there were mainly upper class business men that wouldn’t appreciate the art work he made and therefore decided to give the money back and donate the painting to the tate modern gallery where he new they’d look after it and present his paintings the way he wanted them to be presented.


Abstract Expressionism Review

– 2 types: Gestural and colour field

– A response to post war anxiety and trauma

– painters as heroic

– extentialism

– jung and collective unconscious

– mural size paintins

– communicate surroundings

– importance of crisis

– greenburg and rosenburg



– A response to Abstract Expressionism –


Carl Andre, Equivalent VIII 1966

– Bricks (industrial materials of everyday life- links to constructivism)

– This way of art gets rid of all association to the artist

– It’s equal to but not the same, in this sense the number and mass to the work is the same but the shape is different

– This piece was bought for £60,000

– No expression through him


Timeline: 1960 to mid 1970s

Context and themes:

– reaction against abstraction Expressionism

– influenced by constructivism, De Stijl and Duchamp’s

– Reduction to geometric essentials

– blurs boundries between painting and sculpture

-remove suggestions of self expression

– minimum number of colours, shapes, lines and textures

  • Main artistis: Donald Judd, Frank Stella, Robert Morris


– Intellectual group of people; it was more to do with the idea behind the art –


Robert Morris, untitled 1967/68 Remade

– Industrial felt

– was made so it fell on it’s own weight

– the idea is not the way it’s presented, as how it would of originally made couldn’t be reconstructed to the exact same position


Donald Judd, untitled 1985

– taking the emotion and meaning away by naming it untitled 

-Letting you make your own mind up about the sculpture of how it makes you feel and letting you indulge and evoke this emotion yourself by starring at it rather than having a name pinned to it



  • Minimalism:

– geometric configurations

– Industrial Materials

– Refers to themselves they are objects in their own right

– removal of authorship