Abstract Expressionism is considered a triumph in American Painting. It is still the most discussed and debated form of twentieth century American art, and still influences generations of artists. It used the cultural references of the tragic, the unconscious, the sublime and the primitive to create a unique and evocative style of painting that was unique in the art world.
Though some may view Abstract Expressionism and Surrealism as similar, the thing that made it fundamentally different, according to Motherwell, was that the artists worked more `directly' and `violently' and on a `much larger scale physically than the surrealists ever had.' (Page 40, David and Cecil) It also seems important to Motherwell to have a style that challenges the limits. `Of course this anticipated Pollock's drip style, but only in a very limited sense, i.e., limited to arcs. By comparison, what Pollock achieved was totally different, totally free.' (Page 41, David and Cecil)
Abstract Expressionist artists believed that the subconscious mind could recognise and respond to the emotions portrayed in their paintings. To aid this absorption of feeling, blocks of colour and simple forms were used extensively. `Abstract expressionism's avowed purpose is to express the self to the self.' (Page 2, David and Cecil)
According to Chave, paintings such as `Untitled (Violet, Black, Orange, Yellow on White and Red)' by Rothko `metaphorically encompass' the tragic `cycle of life from cradle to grave, in part by harbouring an oblique reference to both adorations and entombments.' (http://www.guggenheimcollection.org/site/artist_work_md_138_5.html) He also suggests that this particular painting, of 1949 represents a mother, possibly the Virgin Mary; represented by the blocks of red orange and yellow, cradling the infant Jesus, represented by the black line that runs though the centre of the painting. That a painting could be read in this way reveals its sublime aura.
Rothko saw the `clouds of colour' in his paintings as abstract `performers possessing tragic or ethereal demeanours.' (Page 23, Hopkins) The size of the paintings functioned as a representation of scale. Viewers could measure themselves against the coloured blocks. `This could lead to the feeling of being enveloped or transported out of the body,' (Page 23, Hopkins) Frank O'Hara also considered scale important in Pollock's paintings, because of the `emotional effect of the painting upon the spectator.' (Page 28, O'Hara) `Blue Poles', by Pollock is seven feet high and some sixteen feet across. Robertson describes it as a `world self contained and utterly convincing which the spectator should be flexible to enter, explore and move about in.' (Page 29, Robertson)
Gottlieb and Rothko were inspired by primitive and archaic art, but removed any symbols from their original context, making their connotations inaccessible to the general public. The viewer could not tell what these symbols meant to the artist by...