Visual art is undoubtedly a powerful medium for self expression, particularly when words are difficult to find. Words can carry many specific meanings, possibly differing vastly depending on the listener, making miscommunications potentially easier to come by. Within art even, working with representational imagery can have its mixed messages— it seems one of the best ways to communicate a complex experience or emotional state could be the one conjured by the Abstract Expressionists, a cast of visionaries who chose to forgo the crutches of familiar subjects in order to invent a more open-ended means of speaking. When pre-inscribed meaning is no longer tethering a creative articulation, the songs that arise can be a remarkable kind of profound.
The term abstract expressionism mostly refers to a handful of American painters, a post–World War II movement developed in New York in the 1940s and the first specifically American movement to achieve international influence, putting New York City at the center of the western art world, a role formerly filled by Paris— though it also includes work from France to Germany, Canada, Russia and Spain amongst others, and as early as 1919. Born from its predecessor surrealism, it appealed to artists interested in spontaneous, automatic, or subconscious creation, fostering an atmosphere of visions and lucid dreaming that could give voice to things perhaps indescribable. The works that came out of this movement are often startlingly resonant, and have an uncanny nature of timelessness— appearing relevant, impassioned and satisfying no matter the time or context.
Wassily Kandinsky was an early experimenter and is attributed with creating one of the first truly abstract works. His playful and graceful arrangements could be likened to mental furniture, thought structures that always contain a distinctive element of emotion through his thoughtful renderings. These pieces Violet Dominant and Centenaire are some measure quieter than much of his other work with their beautiful subdued color palettes.
Alfred Manessier – Composition, Mourlot stone lithograph 1964
Alfred Manessier was a painter who also made work as a stained glass artist and tapestry designer. After a visit to the Trappist monastery in Orne as a response to the demoralization of the Occupation and war, he became deeply moved by the ancient garb and art, chants and worship, rhythms of work and silence by the monks. Discovering what he described as a cosmic link between their activities and the world of nature, he sought to express this with his art thereafter. Many of these elements can be seen in works like this 1964 Mourlot-printed stone lithograph Composition.
Antoni Tàpies – Black and Red, Galerie Lelong, stone lithograph 1990 Antoni Tàpies – Tapies Paintings and Sculptures, stone lithograph printed book 1986
Antoni Tàpies sometimes enjoyed making work in conjunction with poets and writers, preferring to employ other dimensions to his creativity, a way in which his voice could perhaps reach uncharted realms. Experimenting with concepts of high art and low art, everyday methods like hand and footprints, sculptural aspects like embossing, flocking and indentations, and unusual materials like straw, sand and dirt, he was able to encapsulate a rich, varied and spirited repertoire of deep expressions. This 1990 stone lithograph Black and Red, Galerie Lelong and this 1986 book Tapies Paintings and Sculptures display his unmistakable fervor brilliantly.
"When pre-inscribed meaning is no longer tethering a creative articulation, the songs that arise can be a remarkable kind of profound."
Robert Motherwell – Untitled, stone lithograph 1981
Jackson Pollock – Blue Poles, offset lithograph 2014
Of the American Abstract Expressionists, the following four are amongst the genre-defining vanguards, carving a blistering world of new imagery full of confidence, recklessness, sensuality and fever. Robert Motherwell’s Untitled, Jackson Pollock’s Blue Poles, Mark Rothko’s Untitled, and Franz Kline’s New York, NY all seem to inspire inner reflection and outer assertion simultaneously, reminiscent of distant memories and recent daydreams alike.
Mark Rothko – Untitled, offset lithograph Franz Kline – New York, NY, silkscreen 1991
One of the youngest painters of this original group of American abstract expressionists, Theodoros Stamos heralds his friends with this first edition exhibition silkscreen advertising their work, West Side Artists - New York. More than simply an abstract image, it seems to somehow hold all the history of the time, place and character the poster represents.
Theodoros Stamos – West Side Artists - New York, silkscreen
And as her entry to a deluxe portfolio of fifteen artists including Marcel Duchamp, Larry Rivers and Tom Wesselmann, titled Art Sounds and printed in 1986, artist Mineko Grimmer offered this gorgeous visual meditation, a testament to the heartfelt and insightful ways in which abstract imagery can evoke intricate themes and artistic epiphanies. A cross-section of a tree, painted and stained and fraught with drips and cracking, the visual analogy with a vinyl record prompts waves of feeling, summoning the synesthesia that often takes place between music and art.
Mineko Grimmer – From Art Sounds Portfolio, SIGNED offset lithograph 1986