What is Abstract Art?

by Christie Cluett 5. December 2014 08:24


 

Abstract art – or Abstract Expressionism, as the movement is officially known – was conceived in New York, after the Second World War.

The term ‘abstract expressionism’ was first used to describe American art by the art critic Robert Coates in 1946, although it was first used in 1919 in Germany to describe German Expressionism.  

 

When was the abstract art movement?

Abstract art has its roots in some of the early Expressionist paintings of the 1900s – particularly in the work of Kandinsky – but the movement truly began to flourish in 1940s New York after the Second World War.

  

What are the hallmarks of abstract art?

The distinctive feature of abstract art is that it has no recognisable subject. It’s a visual language that uses form, colour, line and shape to create an image that has a certain degree of independence from anything in the identifiable world.   

Several abstract artists had their own theories of how certain shapes and colours were influenced by emotions and moods.

Contrary to popular belief, many of their seemingly random – yet vibrant and colourful – splashes and daubs, were planned to the minutest detail.

Others, however, attacked the canvas with a free-flowing, energetic impulsiveness in an attempt to capture subconscious thoughts and emotions.   

 

Examples of abstract art

Composition II in Red, Blue and Yellow (Piet Mondrian)

Mondrian was an abstract master of geometric shapes and precision. In this iconic work, he creates a sense of balance through primary colours, white spaces and straight black lines. He went on to adapt the same style for a range of other pictures. 

White Center: Yellow, Pink and Lavender on Rose (Mark Rothko)

Using large blocks of colour, Mark Rothko created several paintings such as this one. They usually consisted of a border with the edges of the blocks blurred together. It was up to the spectator to make their own interpretations, and Rothko imposed no intention or meaning himself.  Simple, effective, and expensive – in 2007 it sold for £72m.

No. 5 1948 (Jackson Pollock)

One of the most famous of all abstract expressionists, Jackson Pollock had his own distinctive artistic voice, and his style was later referred to as Action Painting. His No.5 1948 – which sold for a staggering $140m in 2006 – creates a vibrant weave of textures and colours, with drizzled brown and yellow paint.

 

Famous abstract artists

Willem de Kooning

A Dutch artist who became part of the New York Abstract Expressionist movement, his most famous painting is Woman III, which sold for over $137m in 2006.

Franz Kline

Generally regarded as an Action Painter like Jackson Pollock, Kline was an American painter, primarily known for his black and white paintings.

Wassily Kandinsky

Widely considered as the father of abstract painting, Kandinsky strived to capture motion and sound in his art and created some of the first abstract pieces.

Piet Mondrian

Mondrian defined his own approach to painting as ‘The Style’, utilizing abstract techniques which involved coloured rectangles and straight lines.

Jackson Pollock

Creating paintings without using brush strokes, his style would later become defined as Action Painting – he covered large canvases with dribbles, flecks and splashes of paint.  

Mark Rothko

Rothko’s paintings are distinctive in their large, vibrant blocks of colour. 

  

Did you know? Four interesting facts about abstract art:

· Before the Second World War, Paris had been the epicentre of the prevailing art trends, but was quickly superseded by New York, which emerged as the major hub for artists.    

· Futurism – a movement which has a lot in common with Abstract art – began in the early 1900s in Italy. Giacomo Balla was one of its leading exponents.

· An off-shoot of abstract art – and one of its most extreme styles – was Suprematism. Kasimir Malevich was a Russian artist who painted in this style, simply a white square painted onto a white background.     

· Renowned abstract artist, William de Kooning, arrived in America as a stowaway on a boat, initially earning a living as a house painter.  

 

At ArtGallery.co.uk, we have a fantastic range of affordable, original abstract art by talented British and international artists – and we're guaranteed to have a piece that will pique your imagination. 

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Art History

12 of the Most Terrifying Paintings Ever Created

by Aileen Mitchell 13. November 2014 12:46

Generally, when we think of art, we think of picturesque scenes of natural beauty, historic buildings, water lilies and charmingly bucolic scenes.

But some of the best, most interesting and thought-provoking work has been that which plunders the darkest depths of the imagination, those gloomier recesses of the human condition that scare, disturb and downright shock.

It's unlikely you'll want any of these morbidly fascinating masterpieces hanging on your wall, but when it comes to some of the most fantastical depictions of hellish and Gothic grotesquery, this selection is pretty hard to beat.

The Great Red Dragon and the Beast from the Sea - William Blake

Better known for his romantic poetry and engravings, William Blake didn't enjoy much success while he was alive, but has generated fresh enthusiasm after his death.

Rather than being inspired by nature, Blake's artistic creations came from the fecund virility of his imagination.

His series of watercolours inspired by the red dragon from the Book of Revelation is particularly terrifying. This masterpiece depicts the red dragon, an avatar of the Devil, towering over the seven-headed sea beast, in all its garish glory.

Study after Velzques's Portrait of Innocent X – Francis Bacon

Bacon was unquestionably one of the most influential and controversial artists of the 20th century, and his figurative style of painting is stark and bleak. He was also known for casually destroying pieces he wasn't happy with, but now his remaining masterpieces sell for millions.

Throughout his artistic life, he kept returning to the portrait of Pope Innocent X by Velazquez to make variations and interpretations of his own, twisting Valzquez's original portrait of a pensive-looking pope into something much more horrific, with his pope shrieking amidst harsh vertical brushed lines.

Dante and Virgil in Hell – William-Adolphe Bouguereau

Artists have been inspired by the scenes of twisted damnation in Dante's Inferno since it was first published. 

Bouguereau was normally associated with realistic pictures of classical tranquillity, but here he took an unexpected side-step into darker territory – the pits of Hell, to be exact – with his rendering of impersonators biting chunks out of each other to consume their identities. A demon looks on and Dante and Virgil look at the damned.

The Death of Marat – Edvard Munch

Unquestionably Norway's most famous painter, Edvard Munch's most unforgettable contribution to the history of terrifying art is this iconic image, The Scream.

Jean-Paul Marat was one of the most important political figures of the French Revolution, who suffered from a skin disease that left him spending most of his days in the bath writing. He was murdered there by Charlotte Corday and, while his death has been pictorially interpreted many times, Munch's vision is an unremittingly violent and brutal one.  

Heads Severed – Theodore Gericault

The Raft of the Medusa is Gericault's most famous work, but he was determined to break free of the classical style, which was prevalent in his day, and unafraid to tackle emotional and taboo subjects.

The decapitated heads painted here were found by Gericault in hospital dissection labs and morgues. Many artists have painted the dead to better understand the living, but few paintings have depicted such grim morbidities so disturbingly.

The Temptation of St Anthony – Matthias Grunewald

Although he lived during the Renaissance period, Grunewald's paintings of religious themes were crafted in the style of the Middle Ages. St Anthony The Great was believed to have undergone many challenges, which tested his faith while worshipping in the desert.

One legend says that he was murdered by demons living in a cave, only to be reincarnated and destroy them later. This particular painting is from the Isenheim Tryptych, with the bizarre congregation of demons similar in style to the work of Hieronymous Bosch.    

Mask Still Life III – Emil Nolde

Nolde was one of the earliest exponents of Expressionism, even though his talents were overshadowed by the likes of other Expressionist painters such as Munch.

The M.O. of expressionism was to distort reality to the extent that it portrayed a subjective point of view, and Nolde's painting was composed from a study of masks at the Berlin Museum, including a shrunken head.

Nolde was fascinated by other cultures throughout his entire artistic life, and this painting explores this interest in an unsettlingly surreal and macabre way.     

Saturn Devouring His Son – Francis Goya

According to Roman myth, which was heavily based on Greek myth, the father of the Gods consumes his own offspring to ensure that no entity other than him comes into creation – and it's this act of child murder that Goya has so vividly and unsettlingly depicted.

The painting was actually one of several pictures – known as The Black Paintings – which had been painted alongside the wall of a house, and was never actually intended to be viewed by the public.

Several psychoanalytical theories about the grimness of the paintings have been postulated – including it being an interpretation of Goya's own fear of ageing – but, however you interpret it, this is a startling and ghoulish work. 

Judith Beheading Holofernes – Caravaggio

The Old Testament's Book of Judith tells of the daring, eponymous widow and how she saves the Israelites from the attack of an army led by Holofernes. Judith meets him and, through her charm and beauty, wins his heart, gets him drunk, then, with the help of her handmaid, decapitates him.

It's been a favourite story and scene for a multitude of artists, but Caravaggio's visual interpretation is the most undeniably gruesome, with the detached, almost emotionless, expression of Judith herself contrasted with the look of grim determination of her handmaid and the expression of agonised horror on the face of Helofernes himself.   

Electric Chair – Andy Warhol

It's a quietly disturbing image: the 'silence' sign glows in the gloom and the chair awaits the grim demise of its future incumbents, the restraints slack on the ground after the last corpse has been carried away. 

Warhol once remarked that "everything I do is connected with death", and his provocative silkscreen images are certainly representative of that, with his electric chair image accompanying other prints of skulls and car crashes.   

The Nightmare - Henry Fuseli

There's something incontrovertibly creepy about Fuseli's most famous painting – a nightmare that causes nightmares – and a hideous depiction of the worst dream ever committed to canvas.

Even Freud would have had a field day with the image of a sleeping woman in virginal gown, sacrificial style, goaded by a squatting troll, pricked ears casting a shadow on the wall as a wild-eyed stallion looks on.

The horror of nocturnal violation has never been better represented than in Fuseli's visual metaphor for bestiality, rape, murder and voyeurism.

In fact, the piece was so popular that Fuseli even created an equally creepy, alternative version.   

Hell – Hans Memling

A grotesque and hellish hybrid of man, woman, dragon, devil, bird and dog, this malicious manifestation dances malevolently over the damned as they burn in eternal hell fire.  

The horror's amped up to an even more intense degree by the fact that the inferno bubbles away in the jaws of a giant fish, with the demon banishing the possibility of any hope by parading the banner "In hell there is no redemption".

Conceived as part of a larger altarpiece designed to terrify 15th century churchgoers into leading better lives, it remains a totally surreal and shocking vision. 

Whether you want something scary, or a painting that’s a bit more tranquil, at Art Gallery, we have a huge selection of fantastic paintings by British and international artists that covers the whole range of genres and styles. 

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Art History | Artists

Curb The Creative Block: 7 Ways Artists Can Stay Inspired

by Aileen Mitchell 17. February 2014 15:59

Anyone working in a creative field or medium knows how difficult it can sometimes be to stay in the totally inspired frame of mind. The spirit wanes, the mind occasionally blocks, and the creative impulses dribble from your brain like water down a plug hole.

Sometimes it’s just tricky to keep those creative juices flowing – and sometimes we need a kick up the artistic derriere to motivate and galvanise us.  

So, what to do? Well, as a matter of fact, there’s PLENTY you can do to give those artistic sauces a good stirring and those creative proclivities a thorough pounding. Here are 7 of them.

Surf the web

There’s much to mined from the sensational, interstellar glories of the internet other than dubious Dutch women and funny cats.  Nourish your creative and artistic soul by researching other artists, look at other painters and read about other partial-to-frequent flourishes of the pen and paintbrush.

Even better, take a peek at work you normally wouldn’t go for, artistic styles you’re unsure of, artists you haven’t heard of. In other words, stretch out beyond the norm of your artistic practices, outside your artistic comfort zone.  YouTube also has an extensive range of painting/drawing classes and demos.

Pick up a book

The World Wide Web might be a vast library online, but you can’t beat perusing a bookshop for the real deal, the physical connection you get between creator and tome. There’s something magical about a bookshop or library, and whatever subject, movement, style, period, form or artist you’re interested in – or want to find out about – you’ll find it.Online, you can go to sites such as Amazon, research it, ‘peek inside’, and read reviews before you pluck out your wallet.

Take Photos

Grabbing a digital camera and taking your own photographs is a fantastic way of fuelling the fire of creativity. For starters, you’re out and about, exploring the sights, sounds and environments around you in the living world – often stimulating in itself – and secondly, you’re capturing those moments in a single snap.  It’s surprising the assortment of images you can capture, that enrapturing second, captured in time that kick-starts a whole slew of creative ideas and concepts.  

Visit Art Galleries

Perhaps the most obvious one, but we often miss what’s right in front of us – and an art gallery is one of the best ways to immerse yourself in the work of fellow participants of your craft.  Forget the stuffy conception of art galleries as cobwebbed tombs of ancient creations, commandeered by goose-stepping curators kitted in tweed suits, spectacles and an imperious air.  Modern galleries are lively, vibrant affairs, offering rotating programs of art and installations. Sign up to get regular email updates from your local galleries so you know what’s on.      

Make Art Friends

Any creative act should be something of a communal experience. It should unite people, engage them, and give them something to talk about. Well, talk about it with people who share your passion for art then. Find out about local art groups in your area and join them. Have stimulating conversations with stimulating people who are stimulated by art as much as you are.  

Online Courses and Workshops

Schools and colleges offer evening classes, special centres hold courses and workshops – and they’re another opportunity to branch out, meet new people, and consider other approaches and techniques. Admittedly, some of them can be a bit pricey, but it’s another way of, literally, broadening your artistic palette.   

Carry a Notebook

Just as writers scribble down ideas and sentences in moments of creative epiphany, artists should do the same and draw sketches, as and when they get ideas. If you’re inspired by something you see, such as a landmark or unusual image, sketch it.

If an idea pops into your head as you’re trawling the frozen food section of your supermarket, get it down.  Inspiration and artistic creativity knows no bounds and will come in its own time – and you’ve got to be ready for it. Capture those artistic lightning-in-a-bottle moments and always carry a notebook or mini sketch pad.

This just scratches the surface of some techniques you can employ to stop those creative juices from drying up.

Are you an artist with any other tried and tested methods to stay motivated and keep your inspiration levels up?Share in the comments.

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Being an Artist





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