Abstract expressionism is a style of painting, which started during the early 1940s after World War II. Although it originated in New York during this war, its influence comes from the much earlier art movements of surrealism and cubism. In this form, an artist expresses his views through vivid use of colors and bold brush strokes. During this movement, the artists depicted powerful images, and believed in freedom of individual expression.
The artists related to this movement were a group of very diverse individuals, who came together in New York's Greenwich village. The major ones were Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman, Lee Krasner, Mark Tobey, Kenneth Noland, Robert Motherwell, Franz Kline, and William de Kooning. Their works vary greatly; from the brooding melancholic works of Rothko to the more flamboyant pieces of Pollock. This movement promoted the painting of abstract work instead of any representation. It was greatly criticized by the critics who considered it to be too avant-garde due to its lack of figuration and bold brush strokes. Due to the depression, and crisis brought on by the war, the artists started to depict human vulnerability.
Several artists during the above mentioned period, started experimenting with different shapes and colors. They broke away from conventional painting styles, and painted huge canvases in blue, orange, red, or other bold colors. The movement is characterized by splattering of paint and powerful brush strokes. The artists preferred larger canvases that were positioned on the floor over canvases that were easel bound and moderate. The focus of this art was not in mere portrayal of objects, but the expression of emotions. There was in fact, an almost aggressive application of paint, which created a highly intense and dynamic imagery. Jackson Pollock created a revolutionary new technique of splattering and pouring thinned oil paint into a canvas, which was laid on the ground instead of being supported by easels.
Broadly speaking, this art consisted of two streams - Color Field Painting and Action Painting. The former was developed during the early part of 1960s, and involved creating art that was based on simplified and larger than life color dominated fields. The compositions were huge colored areas with no recognizable forms or signs. The artist's goal was to create a work of art, which was sublime and ethereal, rather than plainly beautiful. Rothko in particular painted soft blurring rectangles of luminescent color, which never failed to impress the viewers. In addition to Mark Rothko, Ellsworth Kelly and Helen Frankenthaler were some other painters, which were associated with this type of painting. Action Painting arose prior to Color Field Painting (between the 1940s and 1950s), and was practiced by artists such as Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, and Franz Kline.
This movement peaked between 1942 to the mid 50s. It shifted the focus of the art world from Paris and Europe to America. This greatly influenced new generations of artists, who created their own art based on their individual expressions. By late 1969, the interest in this movement began to wane, and new movements such as minimalism and pop art, strongly began to influence the art community.