Abstract expressionism was an specifically American post-World War II art movement. It was the first American movement to achieve worldwide influence and also the one that put New York City at the center of the art world, a role formerly filled by Paris.
After WWII, with images of the Holocaust everywhere, it seemed redundant for socially-aware artists to paint these same images … a photograph at the time was much more powerful. Artists began to explore color and shape and to paint an entire canvas orange or blue.
These works were produced in an extremely specific geographical setting and revealed a specific attitude. It was the result of the rivalry and dialogue between young American artists and the large community of European artists living in exile in New York. Additionally, it has an image of being rebellious, anarchic, and highly idiosyncratic and, some feel, rather nihilistic. It is seen as combining the emotional intensity and self-expression of the German Expressionists with the anti-figurative aesthetic of the European abstract schools such as Futurism, the Bauhaus and Synthetic Cubism. The movement describe formal trend in American abstraction at the time. It can be broadly divided into two groups: Action Painting and Color Field and Hard-Edge Painting. It has its non-American parallels with similar aims (Art Informel, Cobra, Lyrical Abstraction).
By the 1960s, the movement had lost most of its impact, and was no longer so influential. Movements which were direct responses to, and rebellions against, abstract expressionism had begun, such as pop art and minimalism. However, many painters who had produced abstract expressionist work continued to work in that style for many years afterwards.
Action Painting(late 1940’s – late 1950’s)
One of the significant streams of Abstract Expressionism is the Action Painting. The term “Action Painting” was used for the first time in 1952 to describe the works of painters such as Jackson Pollock, Franz Kline and Willem de Kooning. The life energy and the psyche of the painter were at once the driving force, the resource and the meaning of these works. The canvas was seen as an arena. Painting became an irrational, instinctive and impulsive moment of existence. The Action Painting work thus turned into the form and trace of the living body, conveying split-second action and motion.
Color Field and Hard-Edge Painting (early 1960’s)
Another significant stream of Abstract Expressionism is the Color Field and Hard-Edge Painting. The terms Color Field and Hard Edge describe two formal trends in American abstraction in the early 1960’s. Color Field works consist of large colored areas; neither signs nor forms existed for the eye to latch on to. Color was used without any perspective device, producing a sensation of impressive size. The shades of color were usually diluted so as to sink into the canvas.
The expression Hard Edge appeared in the late 1950’s to describe geometric abstract works, which emphasized colorful atmospheres and imprecise shapes. Hard Edge works were typified by their clearly defined outlines and edges and the precision and clarity of the compositions.