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The Women Representatives of Abstract Expressionism.


We have all heard of names such as Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning and Mark Rothko. These are all exceptional men who shaped or followed the movement of Abstract Expressionism, forever altering modern art. However, (Art) History tends to "forget" or give little credit to women artists, a norm that contemporary (Art) Historians -including us- aim to eliminate. Therefore today we shall dive together into the Abstract Expressionism movement and take a brief look onto the female representatives.


But what does the term "Abstract Art" reffer to, to begin with?


The term 'abstract' technically refers to the process of separating or withdrawing something from something else. Abstract art is a type of art that does not strive to be a precise representation of visual reality. Instead, it achieves its effect by the use of shapes, colors, forms, and gestural signals. The phrase "Abstract Art" -vaguely put- refers to art based on an item, person, or landscape in which shapes have been simplified or schematised.


The women we are going to see below are a perfect example of such art. The list could go on for quite a while, so we will stick to the basic representatives, as a 101 guide to Female of Abstract Expressionism.


LEE KRASNER


Lee Krasner - Living Color

We all know the saying "behind every powerful man, is woman". This proverb perfectly applies to Lee Krasner, the first of the two artists on our list who was married to another famous painter. Krasner was married to Jackson Pollock and he would, therefore, cast a shadow over her at times. However she was a woman of undeniable talent and perspective, who made it into Art History as one of the leading figures of Abstract Expressionism.


But why is Lee Krasner so important? By just staring at her paintings, the first thing to notice is the structure of the forms, despite the abstract character that her works present. Krasner - amongst with painting - worked with collage, using cubist-style, fragmented images.




JAY DEFEO


Jay DeFeo - The Rose

DeFeo's multi-media pieces often depict topics of misticism and personal experiences. The Rose (1958-66), a combination of painting and sculpture that took the artist eight years to complete, exemplifies the artist's unwavering commitment to new forms.


Her earliest significant paintings demonstrate the influence of Abstract Expressionism and Italian architecture, as well as Asian, African, and ancient art aesthetics. She started using new techniques and supplies, such as photography, in her artworks in the 1970s. Her paintings transitioned from oil to acrylic, and from canvas to Masonite or plywood panels. DeFeo frequently mixed textured media into the paint or covered the surface with collage elements like paper, plastic, or even objects. A decade later she went back to using oil paint, creating works on paper as well as larger and smaller canvases. Some of these pieces feature images from her early pieces and have a particular harmony between spontaneity and accuracy.



HELEN FRANKENTHALER


Helen Frankethaler - Red Shift

Vivid colors, often perky strokes and lively ambiance are the main phrases that could characterize Helen Frankenthaler's works. The work that she is mostly known for are the said "poured paintings" and especially Mountains and Sea. These works were created by a specific method that Fraknenthaler used. She would put the canvas onto the floor without even applying primer paint and then she would pour diluted paint in between. Then, looking at the canvas, new abstract forms were unfolded and new images were born.


She worked in a variety of mediums, including ceramics, sculpture, tapestry, and, most notably, printing. Hers was a key voice in the mid-century "print renaissance" among American abstract artists. She kept on working hard during the first decade of the twenty-first century.



JOAN MITCHELL


Joan Mitchell - City Landscape

With more than four decades of experience she is regarded as one of the most important painters of the post-war era, having worked in a range of media, such as oil on canvas, pastel on paper, and lithographic printing. The characteristics of Mitchell's world—water, trees, dogs, poetry and music—created pictures and memories that she worked from throughout her career.


Paying tribute to Monet's paintings of flower gardens, Joan Mitchel's works are oftent vibrant and full of life, adding up to her unique zealous abstract style. In addition to the aforementioned statement, her paintings are often characterized daring and full of expression, conjoining strips of paint in a way that the forms and figures are reformed and rebranded.



MARY ABBOTT


Mary Abbot - Bill's Painting

Mary Abbott was in the same circles with artists such as Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning (who was also her lover for some years), being also one of those reinventing painting in the years following World War II. She produced vibrant, vivid pieces that were frequently influenced by music or nature.


Following a brief stint as a model, with appearances in Vogue, Harper's Bazaar, and other publications, she embraced her career as an artist. Abbott had a lifelong fascination in nature, but mythology and religion served as touchstones. Her paintings were always her personal reactions to places rather than records of certain locations. Her loose brushwork was especially influenced by the natural world's color and light fluctuations as well as the location.



ELAINE DE KOONING


Elaine De Kooning - Bullfight

Reaching the end of our Abstrac Expressionism journey, we come to the second of the two female artists of this article who were over shadowed by their husbands' fame. As her name suggests, Elaine De Kooning was the wife of the famous panter Willem De Kooning, but her legacy expands further from painting since she was also an art critic and editor held in high regard by her contemporaries.


Her abstract paintings evoke feelings of energy and movement on the two-dimensional canvas by fusing figurational components with a free-flowing, emotive manner. One of her most well-known paintings was her portrait of John F Kennedy, one that overlooked every norm of that time, using harsh strokes and wildely captured forms, creating the figure of such a famous man in the most experimental and abstract way possible.



In conclusion, it is important to always look behind the pages because amazing things (in this case, artists) can be found. Art history has generally been indifferent to many female artists, a fact that nowadays is (fortunately) being increasingly dismissed. It is within our power, as individuals, to get sufficiently informed and broaden our knowledge of things.


Insistrum, in Collaboration with the contemporary art space of Peru Athens, presents a month full of Abstract Expressionism with workshops, talks and painting. If you happen to be around in Athens during January, feel free to join us at Peru Athens every Saturday (17.00-19.00) on our Art Talks about Female Abstract Artists (cost: 26 euros).





References:

-Lesso, R. (2023) Who were the 5 Leading Female Abstract Expressionists?, TheCollector. Available at: https://www.thecollector.com/who-were-the-5-leading-female-abstract-expressionists/ (Accessed: 04 January 2024).

-Jay Defeo (2020) Gagosian. Available at: https://gagosian.com/artists/jay-defeo/ (Accessed: 04 January 2024).

-Biography - Helen frankenthaler, Helen Frankenthaler Foundation. Available at: https://www.frankenthalerfoundation.org/helen/biography (Accessed: 04 January 2024).

-Joan Mitchell: Biography (no date) Joan Mitchell Foundation. Available at: https://www.joanmitchellfoundation.org/joan-mitchell/biography (Accessed: 04 January 2024).

-Genzlinger, N. (2019) Mary Abbott, Abstract Expressionist, is dead at 98, The New York Times. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/01/arts/design/mary-abbott-dead.html (Accessed: 04 January 2024).





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