Abstract Expressionism is commonly used to describe the gestural abstract art that dominated artistic life after World War II. Developed in New York by a group of innovative painters―notably Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning and Mark Rothko,―this new style was not based in the geometry which underpinned much of earlier abstract art.
The words ‘abstract’ and ‘expressionist’ do not describe precisely the stylistic range of these artists: de Kooning’s Woman V is not abstract, and Rothko’s Multiform is not expressionist in a dynamic sense. What links these works is a feeling for what the paint surface itself can express. De Kooning’s thick impasto retains the violent marks of his paintbrush. In contrast Rothko’s thinned ‘clouds’ of colour melt and merge, evoking a range of moods and emotional states.
The American movement influenced a generation of painters world-wide who identified the act of creation as being of the greatest importance. Pollock and others assimilated aspects of indigenous cultures and mark-making. Through expressive spontaneity, and bypassing the constraints of Western tradition, the artist sought a new, direct relationship between medium and meaning.