The Greats: Abstract Artists

By definition, Abstract art is art that does not attempt to represent an accurate depiction of a visual reality but instead uses shapes, colours, forms and gestural marks to achieve its effect.

There have been many artists who have changed the game and are known as the best of all time, today we’re running through a few of our favourites.

By definition, Abstract art is art that does not attempt to represent an accurate depiction of a visual reality but instead uses shapes, colours, forms and gestural marks to achieve its effect. 

Abstract art has been a part of modern art since the early 1900s and was associated with a philosophy of Art for Art’s sake - the argument that a painting or sculpture should be free from naturalism and be more about the substance of the art itself - including the line, the tone, the colour and material or texture. 

James Abbott McNeil Whistler is one of the earliest artists associated with this style of art, as well as Wassily Kandinsky and Kasimir Malevich, whose names have also been credited with developing the medium that is Abstraction. Since then, there have been many artists who have changed the game and are known as the best of all time, today we’re running through a few of our favourites. 

Jackson Pollock

Appearing in Life magazine under the headline,“Is He the Greatest Living Painter in the United States?,” Paul Jackson Pollock (1912 – 1956) came to the scene postwar in the late 1940s and was known for his signature ‘drip paintings’. This would see him fling, pour or splash household paint onto an unstretched canvas which would lay on the floor of his studio - he would use his whole body to paint a technique he became famous for known as ‘action painting’ which was captured by Hans Namuth who photographed him in 1950. Describing his unusual technique he said, “When I am in my painting, I’m not aware of what I’m doing...I have no fears about making changes, destroying the image, etc., because the painting has a life of its own.”

Jackson Pollock ‘action painting’ captured by Hans Namuth who photographed him in 1950

Willem de Kooning

A pioneer in the Abstract-Expressionism movement, his works were loosely based on figures, landscapes and still lifes that used vivid colour and aggressive paint handling. ‘Woman’ was his most famous series, inspired partly by Pablo Picasso’s work; they featured a completely original approach to deconstructing the figure and were, at that time, considered a controversial body of work. 

“Flesh is the reason oil paint was invented,” Willem de Kooning famously said. With explosive, gestural brushstrokes and bold colours, de Kooning’s vampish portrayals of women challenged the line between figurative and abstract painting.

Cy Twombly

Cy Twombly was born in 1928 in Lexington, Virginia, and studied art in Boston and New York. Part of the next generation of great Abstract painters, Twombly was an emotive painter whose work was sophisticated and influential who directed his works on America postwar and directed his focus to classical, modern and ancient poetic traditions.

Twombly was known for carving into wet surfaces with a palette knife and pencil, completely reconfiguring the meaning of painting as well as creating a somewhat developed gestural vocabulary in which each line and colour is infused with energy, spirituality and meaning. 

After a trip to Italy in the early stage of his career, he later moved there permanently in the late 1950s, this inspired colourful, diagrammatic works, such as Ode to Psyche (1960), that featured erotic illusions and sly jokes, but still maintained an abstract charge.

Julie Mehretu

Living and working in New York, Ethiopian born Julie Mehretu graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design and has received the MacArthur Fellowship, the American Art Award granted by the Whitney Museum of American Art, and the U.S. Department of State Medal of Arts. 

She uses an eclectic mix of styles in her paintings and drawings to create complex pieces that regularly sell for seven-figure prices. Her process includes creating thin layers of paint that builds up over weeks and months to create a wax-like surface that creates a warm and depth to them. Her works engage the history of nonobjective art—from Constructivism to Futurism—posing contemporary questions about the relationship between utopian impulses and abstraction.

Wassily Kandinsky

Known for exploiting the relationship between colour and form to aesthetically please and engage his audience on an emotional level, painting was deeply spiritual for Kandinsky. 

He viewed abstract art as the perfect way to visually express the “inner necessity” of the artist to convey universal human emotions and ideas, he viewed himself as a prophet whose mission was to share this knowledge with the rest of the world to better society. 

‘Blue Rider’ was made in 1903 and is arguably his most famous piece of work as it was the piece that saw him recognised as a pioneer in modern Abstract Art, the title also shares its name with an art movement he would later co-found. In the piece we can see a cloaked rider and their horse racing through meadows, the blue cloak, the artist explains, represents spirituality.

‘Blue Rider’ made in 1903 by Wassily Kandinsky

Mark Rothko 

Born Markus Rothkowitz in Latvia in 1903, Rothko immigrated to the United States in 1913 with his family. He studied at Yale University and like his peers, he found his direction and his place in New York. Best known for his colour field paintings that depicted irregular and rectangular regions of colour, which he produced from 1949 to 1970.

His works are known to bring people to tears and the artist commented on this saying, “the fact that a lot of people break down and cry when confronted with my pictures shows that I can communicate those basic human emotions….If you…are moved only by their colour relationships, then you miss the point.”

We are delighted to be welcoming a new Abstract artist to Hancock Gallery. In her first ever UK solo exhibition, award winning artist Petra Schott has launched a collection of 14 original paintings that are inspired by relationships and human connection. Discover the award winning artist and visit the exhibition, explore in Gallery and online. 

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