A description generally applied to aspects of modern American painting in the late 1940s and early 1950s which were concerned both with the various forms of abstraction and with psychic self-expression. Abstract Expressionism was more of an attitude than a style, drew on many historical sources from Van Gogh to Matisse and Kandinsky, and embraced a wide variety of paintings ranging from the drip paintings of Jackson Pollock to the intensely coloured floating shapes of Mark Rothko.
Although the term had been known since the 1920s, when it was used to describe Kandinsky's abstract paintings, it was first employed to describe contemporary painting in 1946, by Robert Coates in the New Yorker magazine. Championed by the critics Harold Rosenberg and Clement Greenberg (who in 1948 declared that the future of western art depended on this phase in American painting), Abstract Expressionism gained widespread acceptance in the 1950s, at first in America and then internationally (the first American movement to do so), the European variant being Art Informel, a term coined by Michel Tapié in 1952.
Text source: The Oxford Concise Dictionary of Art Terms (2nd Edition) by Michael Clarke
What is Abstract Expressionism?
Curator Eleanor Nairne explores the commonalities and divergences between the artists we have come to know as Abstract Expressionists. What is the underlying connection between these works that seem so different in terms of colour, form, idea and material? Nairne unpacks the term paying critical attention to the work of Lee Krasner, a painter who refused to settle on a ‘signature image’, a uniquely identifiable style and mode of working which was so important to her contemporaries like Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko and Franz Kline.