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ART HISTORY 4470 Abstract Expressionism

Automatism •

automatism: – Surrealist technique for generating form that did not impose style – free association, rather than reliance on reason

New York School: – depart from Surrealist concept • device for objectifying an intense conscious experience as it unfolds – rather than means of bringing forth unconscious material for association or of using unconscious thought processes to modify imagery – spontaneity and improvisations • stopped evoking classical myths (e.g., Ernst’s Oedipus Rex) – subject matter of even more immediate and personal introspection – direct means of conveying subjective experience itself – content • intrinsic to act of painting • process unearthed intensely felt experience on which artist deliberated in paint; spontaneous act of origination • encounter never oriented either to past sources (psychological or art historical) nor to anticipated future

Abstract Expressionism

context: intellectual history –

Carl Jung (1875-1961) •

• •

training: younger colleague of Freud – especially knowledgeable in symbolism of complex mystical traditions » e.g., alchemy, Kabala, Hinduism and Buddhism technique: – carefully recorded dreams, fantasies, and visions – drew, painted, and sculpted them approach: “collective unconscious” – psychic inheritance – reservoir of species’ experiences concepts: – “collective unconscious” » unlearned tendency to experience things in a certain way – archetypes – persona – anima and animus – synchronicity – introversion and extroversion

Abstract Expressionism •

context: intellectual history –

Existentialism (c. 1950) • • • •

principal philosopher: Jean Paul Sartre theme: disintegration of social/moral fabric post-WWII tone: emphasizes absurdity reaction against traditional philosophies, such as rationalism and empiricism thesis: absence of transcendent force (i.e., God) – means individual is entirely free – therefore, ultimately responsible philosophy explicitly pessimistic – human life requires a rational basis, but attempt is a "futile passion” – emphasizes human responsibility for fate – vast responsibility becomes source of dread & anguish

Abstract Expressionism

Harold Rosenberg (1906-78) context: art criticism – originator of the term “action painting” – positioned himself squarely opposite formalist critic Clement Greenberg – established meaning for abstract art: • artist’s marks are as discussible as any other subject matter • “a violent and tortured labyrinth serving up an archetype of creative suffering” – task of artist: • heroic exploration of most profound issues of personal identity and experience • in relation to large questions of human condition – political agenda  credited US as center of international culture

Arshile Gorky (1904-1948) •

• •

biography: – born in Armenia; refugee of Turkish invasions (c.1910s) • mother died of starvation in flight – 1920: emigrates to United States – 1924: moves to NYC • changes name to Arshile Gorky – Gorky  “bitter one” in Russian » reference to horrific childhood in Armenia training: studied briefly at RISD career: – 1930s  associated w/ Stuart Davis, de Kooning, et al – 1940s  profoundly affected by European Surrealism (e.g., Arp, Miro) – free form organic shapes • taken on by Julien Levy Gallery – premier gallery for avantgarde art in New York – paintings sold well – Clement Greenberg, writing for The Nation in 1946, described solo show

Gorky’s Garden in Sochi (1941)

Gorky •

The Liver is the Cock’s Comb (1944) – –

significance: mature work aesthetic: “color veil” painting • process includes preliminary sketches • brushwork: adds turpentine – looser, spontaneous effect subject matter: • rejects Surrealist automatism • instead, systematically disguises a consciously generated subject title: provides multiple references/meaning • meaning  ambiguous – source of passion is lust; or – living is vanity • liver  ancient/medieval texts locate it not heart) as center of passion • cock’s comb  vanity & virility forms: abstract; metamorphic • figure (right) – rooster’s comb on head – feathered pelvis • female figure (center) – bent at waist – inspecting variety of tall plants • dog (bottom)

Gorky’s The Liver is the Cock’s Comb (1944)

(Left) Gorky’s The Liver is the Cock’s Comb (1944) vs. (right) Kandinsky’s Composition VII (1913)

Jackson Pollock (1912-1956) •

biography: – born in Wyoming to working-class family of five sons – high school in Los Angeles w/ Philip Guston • rebellious and intellectual; expelled 2x – 1930: moved to NYC to live w/ eldest brother training: Art Students League (NYC) – 1930-33: studied under Thomas Hart Benton • dramatic spatial arrangements • rhythmic system of interlocking curves and counter-curves • subject matter  continuity between present-day America and ancient past • scale: grand, epic – David Siqueiros (1936) • master Mexican Muralist • P took job @ Union Square workshop • experimental, unorthodox materials – novel techniques of application (e.g., spraying, splattering, and dripping of paint) issue: alcoholism – sought Jungian psychology as remedy – cause of death


influence of John Graham: –

P established correspondence w/ G • emboldened P’s search for universal mythic images in his own unconscious G’s “Primitive Art and Picasso” (1937) • primitive art offers more direct access • belief that unconscious mind provided essential knowledge and creative powers for artist • influence of Picasso: – fragmentation of expressionist images in shallow space – painting w/ a social conscious (e.g., Guernica)

Pollock •

“action painting” – –

– – –

– –

influence: Existentialism • affirm being through action (Sartre) • moral commitment to search for “self” influence: jazz • improvisational compositions and tempos (e.g., Monk, Davis, Coltrane, Parker, Gillespie) scale: heroic process: raw canvas placed on floor • relate to Navajo sand painters • able to walk around composition technique: automatism • dripped, poured & spattered pigments across vast expanse of canvas • split-second decision- making and happenstance • unique, spontaneous, unrepeatable event/performance forms: eliminates all symbols and signs exhibition history: • first shown at Betty Parsons Gallery (January 1948) – widely ridiculed – continued to be, until his death • psychological condition deteriorates after 1950 exhibition in NYC

Pollock •

Shimmering Substances (1946) – – – –

– –

series: “Sounds in the Grass” aesthetic: non-objective forms: abandons over images entirely spatial order: 2-dimensional flattening • yet impasto layering creates minimal reference to depth composition: “all-over” structure • dynamic swirls • evenness of distribution of visual activity brushwork: impasto; gestural/sensuous color: vibrant and economical

(Left) Pollock’s Shimmering Substances (1946) vs. (right) van Gogh’s Self-Portrait (1889)

Pollock’s Mural (1947)

Pollock •

Cathedral (1947) –

– –

– – – –

significance: non-narrative • present as fixed reference point • collapse of time; non-narrative • relate to James Joyce, Cubism, Einstein influence: Kandinsky • 1945 Kandinsky memorial exhibition at Museum of Non-Objective Painting – 200 paintings – published translations of K’s important writings (e.g., Concerning the Spiritual in Art) materials: enamel & oil paints process: “action” painting • applied w/ sticks & brushes • unerring control over gestural marks surface texture: embedded nails, tacks, glass, cigarette butts, etc. brushwork: impasto composition: “all-over” viewer: requires viewer to surrender intellectual control • “One should not look for, but look passively — and try to receive what the painting has to offer” (Pollock)

Pollock’s Lavender Mist (1950)

Pollock’s Abstract Expressionist Lavendar Mist (1950) vs. Kandinsky’s German Expressionist Composition (1913)

Pollock’s Blue Poles (1952)

Pollock’s Portrait and a Dream (1953)

Abstract Expressionism  

Contemporary Art

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