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Entries in Abstract Expressionism (27)


Frank Stella: Dynamism, Tactility, and Scale

Frank Stella - Chodorow II - 1971 - Felt, paper and canvas collage on canvas - overall: 274.4 x 269.3 cm (108 1/16 x 106 in.) - National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.Focusing on the formal elements of art-making, Frank Stella (born 1936) has created complicated works that embody dynamism, tactility, and scale. Though technically part of the Second Generation of abstract expressionists, Stella dramatically departed from that tradition in the late 1950s, becoming a leader and practitioner of what would become Minimalism. He became known for his irregularly shaped works and large-scale multimedia reliefs. 

Stella studied painting at the Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, and history at Princeton University (B.A., 1958). He gained recognition for his art when he was still in his mid-20s, and has enjoyed a long and productive career. MoMA and the Whitney, in New York, have both held retrospectives of his work, and one of his freestanding public sculptures is installed in front of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. 

To learn more about the artists featured on What About Art? this week, register HERE for Jill Kiefer’s Post-Modern Art class, beginning shortly at the Bethany Arts Community in Ossining, New York.


Clyfford Still: A Radical Abstract Style

IMAGE 1 STILL: Clyfford Still - Untitled - 1946 - Oil on canvas - 62 x 44 5/8 in. (157.5 x 113.3 cm) - Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.Abstract Expressionist Clyfford Still (1904-1980) is not the most well know of the “New York School” of artists. But he was the first to break through to a new and radically abstract style devoid of obvious subject matter. Still used fields of color to explore dramatic conflicts between humans and nature taking place on a monumental scale.“

A graduate of Spokane University in Washington, Still’s style evolved from a type of regionalism to an abstract presentation of landscape. He taught at Washington State University for eight years, then moved to California, where he worked in the shipbuilding and aircraft industries, during the war years. He then taught at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, from 1943-45, followed by a year in New York. Moving to California, Still taught at the San Francisco Art Institute until 1950. He lived for awhile in New York, and ultimately settled on a 22-acre farm in Maryland, where he remained until his death.

Still's overriding theme is the existential struggle of the human spirit against the forces of nature, a notion that finds expression in the vertical forms that reach defiantly through the majority of his compositions.” His work influenced many artists, including Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, and Barnett Newman, as well as other color-field painters, all discussed elsewhere on What About Art?

In his will, Still stipulated that the remainder of his estate (more than 2,000 works) would be available to the public in any American city that devoted a museum exclusively to his art. The city of Denver eventually established the Clyfford Still Museum. It opened in 2011, more than thirty years after Still’s death.


Kenneth Noland: The Hard Edge

Kenneth Noland - Graded Exposure - 1967 - Acrylic on canvas - 225.4 x 581.7 cm. (88.7 x 229 in.) - Private Collection (click photo for larger image)American artist Kenneth Noland (1924-2010) was part of the Color Field group of artists that practiced hard-edge abstraction—an approach that combines the crisp geometric abstraction with saturated color and bold, singular forms. Noland was interested in removing all texture, gesture, and emotional content from his paintings.

Inspired by the work of Helen Frankenthaler, Noland used the technique she had developed of staining the canvas with thinned paints, and he positioned his colors in concentric rings and parallels, shaped and proportioned in relation to the shape of the canvas. Consequently, the viewer would look at the canvas as a complete object, rather than looking into it for further depth or meaning.

In the late 1960s, Noland began to produce his Striped paintings. The work featured here measures nearly 19 feet wide. Noland painted his stripes progressively thinner towards the top, as if the image were receding into the distance. The rainbow-like effect of coloring also suggests a horizon that extends beyond the canvas. This visual effect, however, should not be confused with any particular subject matter or context.

Noland’s work embodies influences from Piet Mondrian, Josef Albers, Mark Rothko and Barnett Newman—all of whom helped to pave the way for Minimalism and other future movements. (You can also read more about these artists right here on What About Art?)


Elaine de Kooning: A Fusion of Ideas

Elaine de Kooning - Self-Portrait #3 - 1946 - Oil on masonite - 75.6 x 57.5cm (29 3/4 x 22 5/8”) - National Portrait Gallery - Washington, D.C. (click photo for larger image)Elaine de Kooning (1918-1989) was a prolific artist, art critic, portraitist, and teacher during the height of the Abstract Expressionists era and well beyond. Much of her art fused abstraction with mythology, primitive imagery, and realism. Her work continues to receive increasing critical attention as she was, without question, also one of the most important artists, writers, and teachers to have worked in the 20th century. She was particularly noted for her witty, perceptive analyses of a wide range of art.

While Elaine did use gestural brushstrokes in most of her work, much in the tradition of the "action" painters, her work was figurative and representational, to some degree, and thus rarely as purely abstract as some of her closest contemporaries.

In the mid 1940s, Elaine and her husband, Willem de Kooning, were poorer than ever, and both were experiencing great difficulty in selling any work. In an effort to make money, Elaine painted the realist self-portrait featured here, and sold it to her sister for a sum of $20. She described it, at the time, as "good money." The pseudo-abstract touches in this otherwise classical portrait are very much in the style of artist Fairfield Porter, who was a close friend of the de Koonings, and whose portrait Elaine also painted.


Ad Reinhardt: Purifying Painting

Ad Reinhardt - One Year the Milkweed - 1944 - Oil on canvas - 94.2 x 119.3 cm (37 1/16 x 46 15/16 in.) - National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.Ad Reinhardt (1913-1967) was an abstract painter active in New York beginning in the 1930s and continuing through the 1960s. He was a member of the American Abstract Artists and was a part of the movement centered on the Betty Parsons Gallery that became known as abstract expressionism.

Although commonly associated with the Abstract Expressionists, his work had its origins in geometric abstraction, a rarity for an American artist. He increasingly sought to purify his painting of everything he saw as extraneous to art, and he rejected the movement's expressionism. Although Reinhardt was, in turn, rejected by many of his peers, he was later hailed as a prophet by Minimalists.