Abstract expressionist paintings are typically characterized by their abstract forms, the application of paint by expressive gestural movements, as well as their large physical size. If you’re a fan of works by such artists as Jackson Pollock or Mark Rothko, we invite you to explore Saatchi Art’s international selection of abstract expressionist paintings for sale. Though never a formal nor unified movement, abstract expressionism became the term used to refer to a number of New York artists during the 1940s and 1950s whose works were markedly unique, yet were similar in their expression of intense emotion and exploration of universal themes.
Abstract expressionism emerged in post-WWII New York, when artists sought to break away from conventional techniques and subject matter. The postwar period was a time of censorship, so the movement’s focus on abstract subjects was seen as apolitical, safe, and avant-garde. Abstract expressionists did not follow a cohesive style, but were united by their interest in expressing intense emotions. The large paintings associated with the movement were viewed as traces of the artist’s presence, emphasizing the actual process of creation over the finished work. The first generation of abstract expressionists practiced from 1943 to the mid-1950s and garnered the movement international attention. Later generations and artists today continue to express themselves in a similar vein.
Jackson Pollock is famed for his drip paintings, such as “Number 1A, 1948” (1948) and “Full Fathom Five” (1947). Pollock splattered house paint on large canvases laid on the ground and often incorporated foreign objects and influences, ranging from cigarette ashes to handprints, into his works. Willem de Kooning is also known for his gestural works like “Woman, I” (1950-52), which toed the line between abstraction and figuration. Mark Rothko expressed himself through his large color field works like “Orange, Red, Yellow” (1961). Barnett Newman similarly used large areas of color to connect with the viewer in compositions like “Vir Heroicus Sublimis” (1951). Other artists known for their abstract expressionist paintings include Franz Kline, Mark Tobey, Agnes Martin, Lee Krasner, Robert Motherwell, Adolph Gottlieb, Clyfford Still, and William Baziotes.
To create their abstract expressionist paintings, artists explored several techniques. Though abstract expressionism does not refer to a unified style, artists tended to emphasize dramatic gestural strokes or open fields of color. The movement emphasized action and spontaneity, so many artists culled inspiration from the automatic practices of Surrealism. Others pulled from archaic and non-Western art, adding biomorphic and pictographic motifs to their compositions. Jackson Pollock’s iconic drip method required him to splatter paint on large areas of canvas without a brush. Artists like Franz Kline continued to use paintbrushes, but showcased thick, gestural strokes as the focal point of their works. Color field abstract expressionists, most notably Mark Rothko, paid close attention to detail to balance hues on their expansive canvases. Whichever method they used, these artists were intent on imbuing their art with their emotions.