Action Painting Abstract Expressionism

February 26, 2013

This article on Action Painting Abstract Expressionism is written in “action writing” – no plan, no corrections.  Action painting is absolutely nonobjective by nature, also called gestural as a style of abstract painting.  The artist  spontaneously brushes, pours, drizzles, and smears paint on to the canvas or paper.  These paintings exhibit both the qualities of the materials used and the physical acts of the artist.  This method of abstract painting gained popularity from the 40s to the 60s.

Some of the most popular of these artists have been discussed here.  Another list: James Brooks, Willem de Kooning, Sam Francis, Conrad Marca-Relli, Franz Kline, Grace Hartigan, Jack Tworkov, Joan Mitchell, and Jackson Pollock.  There are good examples of action painting on the web for all of these artists.  And many artists today use this technique as a nonobjective painting technique.  Check out the works here by Brad Bannister.

Most articles cite the development of this art form following the advent of psychoanalysis and nuclear physics.  I understand these radically new fields of knowledge could have spurred a more immediate and elemental art in the beginning.  This is not, I believe, the reason that an artist chooses or develops action styles of abstract painting.  Action painting is a form that relies on spontaneity, surety of expressive power, allowing rather than checking or sublimating impulses.  And most of all, nonobjective painting in the action style requires a very good ability to see when to continue and when to stop.

When Jackson Pollock worked he essentially ignored a planned composition. His works do not depict any objects.  He simultaneously acts and reacts to his own impulses.  While action painting may use a thought process it does not depend on any heirarchy of decisions that could be seen as a plan to depict anything.  The movements and rhythms are present to some extent but because they are spontaneous they often surprise the viewer just as much as the artist is surprised.  But the artist is using the surprise as the basis for his/her next reaction.

There are many varieties of style that are considered action painting.  Some artists complete the entire painting in ten minutes, other artists may come back to the painting several times with no specific plan except to continue until there is a well executed statement in their eyes.  Abstract painting, nonobjective painting, action painting all share the artist’s disregard for suggestion of a real object.  In that respect these artists are related in creating Abstract Expressionism.

– Giselle Borzov


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