i guess i could be pretty pissed off about what happened to me... but it's hard to stay mad, when there's so much beauty in the world...sometimes i feel like i'm seeing it all at once, and it's too much, my heart fills up like a balloon that's about to burst... and then i remember to relax, and stop trying to hold on to it, and then it flows through me like rain and i can't feel anything but gratitude for every single moment of my stupid little life... you have no idea what i'm talking about, i'm sure. but don't worry... you will someday.

Monday, March 15, 2010


This is an essay I did a while ago for Art School which focuses on Abstract art and it's origins. Also discussing the artists who particularly worked in this style - Jackson Pollock, Willem De Kooning, Picasso, Mondrian and Braque.
‘Abstract’ as a tendency in visual art is frequently used to describe the extreme and dramatic effects and impulses that contrast from the sense of ‘realism’ or ‘naturalism’. With this, abstract art is more about the art itself, bending forms, breaking shapes, and applying various and experimental techniques of texture and colour, which oppose to the obvious depiction of life and the world. Abstract artists intend to communicate to the viewer on a deeper level, where the notions and concepts of the artwork fundamentally exist within the elements of shape, colour, geometry, and spontaneity, significantly contrasting from the realistic and representative style of art. With this, abstraction became a recognized tendency after World War II, however emerged around 1910, where a number of artists took the extreme step of abandoning the obvious and seeming subject altogether. It began in Munich and then flourished in post-War Germany, where the circumstances that promoted abstraction were basically associated with the Social Democracy in the minds of its bitter enemies, the National Socialists (Bar, 1975, Pg17). Abstract art initially made little impact on the public, being regarded as incomprehensible and somehow meaningless. With this, it was banned in Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia during the 1930’s, however, it continued in Paris, where a group of artists known as Cercle et Carrie (circle and square) were founded in 1929 to promote abstract art. Breaking free from the conventional rules and norms of painting and representation, European artists such as Kasimir Malevich, Wassily Kandinsky and Piet Mondrian originated the earliest forms of abstraction, where they understood the open qualities and the spontaneity of its function. Soon after World War II, abstraction became a more powerful and significant aspect of modern art, largely due to the success of Abstract Expressionism (Bar, 1975, Pg 18).


Moreover, during the year of 1940 abstract expressionism began to emerge primarily in New York, where a small group of artists innovatively created a distinctive body of work that brought about a new and revolutionary direction in art, instantly shifting the focus of the art world (Sandler, 1970, Pg 50). Artists exploring this specific style included Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Robert Motherwell and William de Kooning. Most of the artists began their careers during the period of the Great Depression, as well as Hitler’s rise to power and destruction, the Spanish Civil War, the Moscow trials, the Nazi Soviet Non-Aggression Pact and the outbreak of World War II. These political disasters shaped and influenced the perspectives of American artists, in which the 1930’s motivated and encouraged most artists to produce and create work solely in ‘social protest’ or ‘regionalist’ manners. The artists of that time were perceived as ‘rebellious, individualistic, unconventional, sensitive and irritable’ where they came to value the personal and subjective, relying on their own experiences and viewpoints that were intensely felt (Sandler, 1970, Pg 51). From 1942 to 1947, Jackson Pollock explored violent themes which were embodied in tempestuous paintings. He eliminated all recognizable and customary symbols, where he predominantly began to rely on gestures, and the impulsive lines of dripped pigments. With this, Pollock wanted, as he said, to ‘literally be in the painting’, the instant spontaneity which embodied his creative process. Pollock’s paintings possess a dynamic and potent quality that exists within the immediateness of the paint, instantly surging out at the viewer in every way. Pollock’s works are aggressive, tormented, pungent outpourings from the complete involvement of the artist himself, laying the canvases on the floor and allowing the colour to freely trickle and apply itself onto the surface by a thick brush dipped in diluted paint as well as other mechanical and found objects such as tin cans. (Sandler, 1970, Pg 53).


Pollock soon found other artists who admired and understood the expressive and dramatic qualities of his work. William de Kooning similarly created paintings that revolved around the spontaneity and surge of materials, producing entirely abstract paintings that became a recognized tendency during 1951 – when the ‘Women’ series began. Colour is a potent aspect of these pieces, immediately conveying a great expressive power and aesthetic quality, somehow involving a sense of movement and form of the human figure. However, the images somehow give an uneasy atmosphere, an underlying sinister sense reappearing in each piece (Haftmann, 1970, Pg 35). Moreover, De Kooning incorporates Cubism, fragmenting the human image and improvising with the separate parts of the body. The shapes overlap, collide, and create an overpowering energy that possesses a fierceness or garishness (Sandler, 1970, Pg 59). This dynamism is also evident through de Koonings black and white paintings, which evolved during the 1940’s. He had reduced his palette to only black and white, creating dramatic and stark images that also brought about a sense of power or brutality. With this, de Kooning predominantly used a blackish background overlapped by patches, streaks and gestural lines of white, instantly communicating the force of the brushstrokes and the artists’ intentions. (Sandler, 1970, Pg 60)

WILLEM DE KOONING - "Black Untitled".

Cubism became a recognized tendency of abstraction that also opposed to the idea of pure representation and depicting the obvious. It was one of the first forms of abstract art, where in the early years of 1906 it developed under the mixed influence of Negro sculpture and Paul Cezanne, who made a deep impression on pioneers such as Picasso and Braque (Bar, 1975, Pg 30). The circumstances that promoted cubism were associated with the artists’ intentions of rejecting the inherited concept that art should copy nature, or that they should implement conventional techniques such as perspective, modelling, and foreshortening. Instead Cubist artists fragmented and fractured objects into geometric forms, also overlapping, intersecting and combining shapes to create an unconventional final image (Bar, 1975, Pg 31). Although the objects were dissected, they were also then reassembled to evoke those same figures or objects. The above image has been noted as one of the first Cubist pieces, where evident influences have been incorporated, ranging from El Greco, bathers of Cezanne, and Iberian and African art that significantly impacted Picasso’s take on Cubism. The image possesses an incredible dynamic power that also expresses a barbaric intensity in the five women, predominantly the two on the right, who appear as though they are wearing masks of some sought (Rewald, 2000). During the period of ‘high’ Analytic Cubism (1910-12), Picasso and Braque abstracted their works further, limiting colour to monochromatic browns, greys and blacks (Bar, 1975, Pg 31). With this, they also began to experiment with letters and text, also applying motifs such as the still life with musical instruments, bottles, pitchers, glasses, newspapers, playing cards and the human face and figure; however, landscapes were extremely rare in these works. Braque’s piece Still Life with a Pair of Banderillas, is occupied by basic and fundamental colours of brown, grey and black, as well as the obvious use of short brushstrokes, that seem to create an aesthetic dabbled effect, coinciding with the repetitive use of fine lines that intersect through the entire composition. (Rewald, 2000).

PABLO PICASSO - "Les demoiselles d'Avignon"

GEORGES BRAQUE - "Still Life with a Pair of Banderillas"
Furthermore, De Stijl and Neo-Plasticism also began to evolve in Holland during the War, another form of abstraction known for its simplicity – geometric shapes and use of primary colour – red, blue and yellow. This was an extremely recognizable facet of Piet Mondrian’s work, who was also influenced by Picasso during 1910. In 1914 Mondrian (Bar, 1975,Pg 141) made pure-abstract paintings using heavy and bold plus and minus lines and in 1915 his piece Composition consisted of only horizontal black lines broken into subtle and fine dashes. However, during 1920, the year of his Neo-Plasticist manifesto, Mondrian decided to abandon this controlled and extreme geometrical function for a more freer style where he used thick and bold black lines that dividing the canvas into various sized rectangles filled with basic greys and primary colour (Bar, 1975, Pg 142). The circumstances which promoted this form of abstraction were based on harmony and order, instantly creating a universal response from all viewers. Mondrian also stressed that art should not specifically concern itself with only reproducing images of real and everyday objects that are immediately obvious to the human eye. He intended to express the universal absolutes that underlie reality and life, also rejecting and eliminating qualities of texture, surface and ranges of colour, in which he limited his palette to the primary colours that are evident in his compositions (Heindorff, 2006).

PIET MONDRIAN - "Composition with Red, Yellow and Blue"

In conclusion, the artists intend to speak to the viewer on a deeper level, where a sense of concentration and attention is required to their work. Abstract art does not only contrast to realism and the depiction of obvious objects, but also enables the materials to speak out instead, while also allowing the garish spontaneity and immediacy to surge and evoke a sense of power or vigour. In the context of the canon, abstraction became a recognized tendency during and after the Second World War, in which abstract artists expressed their own perspectives on the social and political disasters that were evident during that period. Many works also poses an aggressive and pungent quality that somehow seems to take aback the viewer in many ways.

Reference List
Bar, A.H.B, 1975, Cubism and Abstract Art, Martin Secker and Warburg Limited, London.
Anfam, D.A, 1994, Abstract Expressionism, Thames and Hudson Ltd, London
Haftmann, W.H, 1970, Abstract Art Since 1945, Thames and Hudson, London
Sandler, I.H.S, 1970, Abstract Art Since 1945, Thames and Hudson, London
Mercer, K.M, 2006, Discrepant Abstraction, Institute of International Visual Arts, London
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Date Viewed – 12th June,

1 comment:

  1. Oh wow I love everything in this post, I'm so glade that I have finally found a art blog for once.. Oh I'm studying art as well.. such a great experience. =)