Women in Art: Lee Krasner (1908-1984)

Lee Krasner:

Lee Krasner was an American Abstract Expressionist known for her unique contribution to the advent of Abstract Expressionism. She was a key transitional figure within abstraction and did this by connecting early twentieth-century art with new ideas of postwar America. As a significant postwar American painter, she had great artistic versatility and advanced skill with intensive training in art theory. She helped devise the “all-over” technique which influenced her husband’s, Jackson Pollock, “drip paintings”. Another technique/strategy she used was to take “breaks” in order to revise her aesthetic, allowing her to improvise her art style. For example, her paintings/collages show her exploration of colours and graceful rhythmic forms.

Krasner developed her own style of geometric abstraction that was grounded in floral motifs and rhythmic gestures. She was unique in terms of her commitment to using hard-edged figurative elements and a certain amount of cerebral control. This is contrastive to the less-controlled automatism that was practiced by her contemporaries.

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Contemporary and Post Modernism: Cy Twombly (1928-2011)

Cy Twombly:

Cy Twombly was an American painter whose character painting style comprised of expressive drips and active, scribbled, and scratched lines on solid fields of mostly neutral colours (grey, tan, or off-white). A sophisticated and emotional painter, his art situates itself in the context of the history of Western civilization and the process-orientated aspects of Abstract Expressionism. He balanced the static history of the past with his own sensual and emotional responses to it, focussing on his immediate surroundings and combining aspects of both traditional European sources and new American painting. Examples of these inspirations included French neoclassicism, contemporary graffiti on ancient local walls, and Greek and Roman mythology, history, and places.

A major conceptual foundation of his abstract art was writing and language; he was focussed on the written word and the process of writing. These qualities took on forms of identifiable doodles and splotches or words directly on the canvas or line-based compositions that were usually inspired by handwriting. These creations suggested subtle narratives that lied beneath the surfaces of his paintings and coincided with his interest in layering time and history, painting and drawing, and various meanings and associations.

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Abstract Expressionism and Pop Art: Ad Reinhardt (1913-1967)

Ad Reinhardt:

Ad Reinhardt was an American abstract artist who was a major influence on conceptual art, minimal art, and monochrome painting. He was a member of the American Abstract Artists and The Club, a meeting place for the New York School’s abstract expressionist artists during the 1940s to the 1950s. Although Reinhardt was associated with Abstract Expressionists, his works had origins in geometric abstraction. In his exploration of geometric abstraction, he sought to purify his paintings of everything he saw as extraneous to art. He believed that the ultimate in abstract paintings were concerned with art alone and bore no reference to anything outside the paintings themselves. Thus, he sought to remove all references from the external world from his pictures- even the hints of soul and angst typically found in Abstract Expressionists pictures. He maintained an interest in various types of mysticism, as shown in his barely delineated forms in his Black Paintings that viewers struggled to understand.

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Cubism, Dadaism, and Surrealism: Piet Mondrian (1872-1944)

Piet Mondrian:

Piet Mondrian was a Dutch painter who was recognized for the purity in his abstractions and the methodical practices he used to get to them. As an advocator of pure abstraction, he was also one of the founders of the Dutch modern movement, De Stijl. He believed that art reflected the underlying spirituality of nature and simplified elements of his paintings in order to show this, creating a clear universal aesthetic language on his canvases. To do this, he reduced shapes to lines and right angles, and his palette to the primary colours as well as black, white, and grey.

Mondrian also distilled representations of the world to basic vertical and horizontal elements, representing two essential forces (ex. positive vs negative, dynamic vs static, masculine vs feminine… etc.). This dynamic balance of his compositions reflected what he saw as the universal balance of these forces. His uses of asymmetrical balance and simplified pictorial elements were crucial in the development of modern art.

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Expressionism, Fauvism, and Early Twentieth Century: Franz Marc (1880-1916)

Franz Marc:

Franz Marc was a German artist who is most famous for his images of brightly coloured and mysterious animals, which he used to convey messages about humanity, the natural world, and the fate of mankind. His work consists of simplified lines and vivid colours- Marc understood that colour could affect mood and developed a specific theory of colour symbolism. He favoured abstraction as he believed that mystical energy was best revealed through abstraction; art should lay bare the spiritual essence of natural forms instead of just copying objective appearances. He believed that civilization destroyed the human awareness of the spiritual force of nature and he looked upon the natural world as an antidote to modern life, which is why his paintings of animals are often suffused with an almost meditative reverence.

He founded the group “Der Blaue Reiter” (The Blue Rider), an association of German Expressionist artists, that emphasized the use of abstracted forms and bold colours. Der Blaue Reiter’s goal was to use form and symbolism as tools to overcome what they saw as the toxic state of the modern world.

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Impressionism and Post-Impressionism: Henri Rousseau (1844-1910)

Henri Rousseau:

Henri Rousseau was a French artist who is best known for his richly coloured and meticulously detailed works of lush jungle scenes, wild beasts, and exotic figures. His success mainly lies within his background as a self-taught artist and through this, he became the archetypal naive artist. Rousseau’s style showed his lack of academic training and amateurish techniques, such as incorrect proportions, one point perspective, use of sharp unnatural colours, and unusual compositions. His works were made fun of criticized by contemporary critics, but he earned respect of modern artists who admired him for revealing “new possibilities of simplicity”. For example, Surrealists, who valued surprising juxtaposition and dream-like mood characteristics, celebrated Rousseau’s art as they found these aspects in his art. Henri’s Rousseau created modern and unconventional renderings of traditional genres, imbuing them with a sense of mystery and eccentricity.

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Realism, Pre-Impressionism, and Pre-Raphaelites: James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834-1903)

James Abbott McNeill Whistler:

James Abbott McNeill Whistler was an American-born artist credited with spearheading the Anglo-Japanese style in fine art. Delighted by Japanese art, he incorporated Japanese aesthetic into his imaginative compositions. This can be shown through his celebrated signature style of a limited colour palette and tonal contrast while skewing perspective to show a new compositional approach that emphasized the flat and abstract quality of his paintings. He also depended on the theory of “art for art’s sake”, meaning art needs no justification. As a result of this theory, he gave musical titles to his paintings, such as “Harmony” and “Symphony”, because he thought that music was the most abstract of all arts. These abstract titles then made viewers more focussed on his manipulation of paint rather than the subject matter.

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Neoclassicism, Romanticism, and Rococo: George Stubbs (1724-1806)

George Stubbs:

George Stubbs was a British painter of the eighteenth century. He was best known for his paintings of horses and conversation pieces (a type of group portraiture), and established a reputation of the leading painter of horse portraits. This brought him a lot of commissions, including from many noblemen who founded the Jockey Club, a breed registry for Thoroughbred horses in North America that still exists today. From an early age, he had an interest in anatomy and this was a driving force in his career. His paintings of horses are among the most accurate to ever be painted, but his work transcends naturalism. He also painted a variety of other animals, including the lion, tiger, giraffe, monkey, and rhinoceros, marking him as an outstanding animal painter and anatomical draftsman. He knew the importance of observation and anatomical analysis, and believed that nature was superior to art.

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Baroque: Claude Lorrain

Claude Lorrain:

Claude Lorrain was a French painter of the seventeenth century. He is best known for being one of the greatest masters of ideal landscape painting, an art form that seeks to present nature even more beautiful and harmonious. While his works were tributes to the beauty of nature, they usually represented historical or mythical scenes. Originally, he drew from nature, but around the beginning of 1640, he started to make his compositions more Classical and monumental. Lorrain infused the tradition of idealized landscape painting with observed accuracy and created a new method of landscape painting; he worked outdoors, painting from detailed observation and blending classical idealism with naturalistic detail. He also emphasized the dramatic contrasts of light and shade, giving his paintings a powerful feeling of the ephemeral and eternal. Through these contributions to landscape painting, Lorrain laid the foundations for a historical landscape tradition that dominated French and English paintings for at least the next 150 years, becoming influential in his life as well as in England in the mid-eighteen to mid-nineteenth century.

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High Renaissance and Mannerism: Hieronymus Bosch (1450-1520)

Hieronymus Bosch:

Hieronymus Bosch was a Netherland painter of the early 16th century. He was one of art’s first visionary geniuses, the first original thinker, and the first artist to visually express beings and realms unknown to human understanding. Instead of paintings that merely depicted reality, he painted equally convincing concrete and tangible shapes of the fear that had haunted people in the Middle Ages. And he was the first artist to succeed in doing so! He became famous for his apocalyptic representations of the powers of evil and was most celebrated for his rich details and symbolic narrative portrayals of the dance between Heaven and Hell as well as the age-old tales of morality and the eventual fate of sinners.

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