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European + American Art Abstract Expressionism

Abstract Expressionism is commonly used to describe the gestural abstract art that dominated artistic life after World War II. Developed in New York by a group of innovative painters—notably Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning and Mark Rothko—this new style was not based in the geometry which underpinned much of earlier abstract art. The American movement influenced a generation of European and Australian painters who identified the act of creation as being of the greatest importance.

The words ‘abstract’ and ‘expressionist’ do not describe precisely the range of styles of these artists: de Kooning’s Woman V is not abstract, and Rothko’s Multiform is not expressionist in a dynamic sense. What links these works is a feeling for what the paint surface itself can express. De Kooning’s thick impasto retains the violent marks of his paintbrush, conveying the energy and trauma of his relationship to this woman, who stands for all women. Applied in layers of thinned pigment, Rothko’s clouds of colour melt and merge with one another, presenting a chromatic analogue of moods and emotional states.

Like Pollock in his iconic Blue poles, Australian painters such as Tony Tuckson and Ian Fairweather sought to assimilate aspects of indigenous cultures and mark-making. Through expressive spontaneity, and bypassing the constraints of Western tradition, the artist sought to translate his authentic being onto canvas. In the display case nearby, a selection of design and studio crafts objects show their makers’ interest in decorative sculptural and asymmetrical forms, and an expressive use of natural materials.