Famous Abstract Artists
The World Famous Abstract Artists, past and present
BY Alina Livneva POSTED 12th of June 2018 17:00 GMT
Abstract art or Abstraction is a visualization of color and form, an artwork independent from references to the real world. Most of the traditional art is tied to logic and depicts reality as we perceive it.
Since the invention of the photo camera, the art realm was in search of a next strong trend that today we call abstraction. Another explanation for the growing prevalence of the abstract in modern art – is that such abstraction is a response to, and a reflection of, the growing abstraction of social relations in nowadays society. Abstraction has a history of less than a century and has proved to be a long-term trend. Most of the people accept the idea of this art having a positive effect, however, most do not understand why.
An expression connecting the feelings and vibes than the usual perception of realism. Abstraction is a non-figurative art; it is not either objective or representational. The viewer perception is one of departure from the imagery of reality. It places your mind in a continuum of energetic inflow or outflow. Some partially abstract works could keep you in the conscious realm however total abstraction has no connection to our knowledge. We could divide abstraction into geometric, figurative or representational. Among art movements to embody abstraction one easily can identify fauvism and cubism.
One could say abstract art is artists drawing how they feel. Abstraction is not about making copies of real life either about giving the impression. In fact, depending on the artists, abstraction became about the process itself. Below are the most famous abstract artist or prominent figures of the realm and their works:
|Hilma af Klint|
Hilma af Klint (1862-1944), Swedish artist, is considered to be the founder of Abstract art. She and four other young female artists organized the group “Five.” The mission of the group was to research spiritual aspects of culture and develop the practice of automatic drawing – the technique, which later became associated with Andre Breton and Surrealists. Klint believed herself to be a medium, claiming invisible powers translated their messages from her. She created her first abstract compositions in 1906: some of them remind of the landscapes with shimmering lights of the sea. Others are totally distanced from any recognizable images: they consist of geometric shapes, like spirals and circles, letters and symbols. Forms are done in a very simple, clear way, remotely resembling technical drawing. The works are dedicated to the fundamental oppositions of the Universe: sacred and mundane, male and female, inner and external reality. They are expressed through the symbolism of tints. Paintings of Klint were focused on transgressing the borders of the perceptible and explore the limitations of our senses.
According to the will of Hilma, her works mustn’t be publicly demonstrated until twenty years after her death. Because of that, it is Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944) German-Russian master, who was named the pioneer of the Abstract art. He wasn’t just a painter, but a mystic, theosophist, and art theorist. His views on art were expressed in his “Concerning the Spiritual in Art” book. Believing spiritual, transcendent content to be the crucial part of the painting, he insisted it can be expressed most accurately by the direct psychophysical influence of pure color accords and visual rhythms. His “impressions,” “improvisations” and “compositions,” as Kandinsky used to title his series of works, were based on the highly stylized allusion of a mountainous scenery, which seems to vanish in clouds. All these create the illusion of the cosmic non-existence, which absorbs the viewers’ attention. The dramaturgy of paintings and watercolors of the master is orchestrated using the play of color spots, dots, and symbols. Kandinsky saw the transformation of a human into a free, spiritually-aware and esoterically-oriented individuality as the final mission of his art.
|Yellow, Red, and Blue by Wassily Kandinsky|
|The starry night by Vincent van Gogh|
Wassily Kandinsky lived in Germany during the Bauhaus movement. The artist believed that complete abstraction offered the possibility for very deep, transcendental expression and that copying from the material world would interfere with the process. He was determined in creating art that would communicate an overall feeling of spirituality, thus the master innovated a canvas language that would relate to the outside world. Born on December 4, 1866, in Moscow, Russia. Died on December 13, 1944, in Neuilly-sur-Seine, France.
Kandinsky was the father of so-called lyrical abstraction, defined by softness and delicacy of the visual language. It was opposed by geometric abstraction, founded by Piet Mondrian (1872-1944). A Dutch master, he suggested the artistic system, called Neoplasticism. As well as lyrical abstraction, it also depicted the ideal world. But it was a different world – rough, rational and severe. His paintings were the hints at the upcoming totalitarian systems. Mondrian applied exclusively right angles, created by parallel and perpendicular lines; the palette included only prime colors (red, yellow and blue), as well as non-colors, like white, grey and black. The surface was flat and even, so nothing can disturb the ultimate balance, embodied in the regular grate composition.
Vincent van Gogh, another French artist, is an example of Post-Impressionism. He focused more on color and light in his works, giving the impression of light dancing on the fields and meadows he drew. The artist had a very limited following during his lifetime, however, Vincent van Gogh's artistic style had a huge impact on many artists who followed. Van Gogh works established or laid the foundation for the development of the Fauvism, Expressionism, and Modernism. These are the art schools of the 20th century. Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890).
The ideas of Neoplasticism were also developed by another painter from Netherlands – Theo van Doesburg (1883-1931). He formulated the theoretical bases of Neoplasticism in the articles, published in “De Stijl” magazine. He described his own vision of beauty, which has to accurately reflect the absolute laws of Life. The master saw the greatest flaw of the contemporary culture in the fact it attempts to anthropomorphize the world, whilst it has no certain appearance. Those laws are plastically represented through numbers and figures. Straight lines and spectral colours were the basic elements of that visual Universe. Doesburg assumed them to be the only elements that reveal the truth about existence, hiding the distracting flourish of the surrounding reality. Therefore, the target of any artist is to pave the way to those hidden values.
|Theo van Doesburg||Paul Klee|
Paul Klee (1879-1940) was the Swiss painter and graphic artist, who managed to combine the ideas of lyrical and geometric abstraction. He taught together with Kandinsky, working on his visual theory, according to which the morphogenesis in art and nature is rooted in the same rules- the rules of harmony. Klee was a master of finding the most sublime connections between tone and rhythm. Rhythm was the core of his canvases that helped to organize the expressive merge of yellow, orange and brownish hues. Composition was seen by the artist as the skeleton of paintings. That’s why he used the grid structure like Mondrian, but softened it with smooth brushwork and translucent painting surface. The vividness of Paul Klee’s abstractions was often inspired by the numerous journeys across Tunisia, Egypt, Corsica, Italy and Spain.
Robert Delaunay (1885-1941), a prominent French master, was inspired by the theory of Simultanism, formulated by a chemist Michel Eugène Chevreul. The theory explained the peculiarities of our colour perception with the influence of the surrounding hues. Delaunay used this concept in his paintings, composing them of the concentric circles. Their palette consisted of the so-called simultaneous contrasts, which created the impression of motion. Guillaume Apollinaire named the new style “Orphism” (also known as Orphic Cubism). The title referred not only to the enigmatic effect of the pieces: Delaunay’s works ‘sounded,’ as if spreading from the center. Some of the researches mention Robert Delaunay was one of the first artists, who approached to the idea of ‘pure painting’ – complete autonomy of an art piece and its means of expression. For sure, other artists used to non-figurative images, however, it was Delaunay, who made colour ‘the first flute’ of his creative orchestra, the defining part of his art. His fascination with colour was similar to the one Fauvists, like Henri Matisse, had. It was the factor, which underlines the distance between the Modernist and traditional art: the latter saw colour as the mere supplement to drawing.
|Robert Delaunay||František Kupka|
One of the followers of Orphism was František Kupka (1871-1957) – the Czech painter. He moved to Paris in 1894, where he received artistic training. Being interested in theosophy, he also was well-acquainted with the variety of scientific theories of light and color. They prompted him to shift from symbolism and Neo-Impressionism to nonfigurative compositions. Critics referred to his works as to ‘musicalism,’ moreover that the master liked giving his paintings the titles like ‘Nocturne’ or ‘Fugue.’ Comparing to Delaunay, Kupka’s pieces are defined by a clearer design of color zones; attempting to get a more tangible illusion of movement, he located them vertically or diagonally. Вut the most dynamic of his canvases have the centric spiral compositions that allude to the physical concepts of waves and vibrations. In certain cases, František Kupka preferred the gradual transition between the hues, as if they appeared from the ‘Universal void.’
Due to the economic and political reasons, after the WW I, the international artistic center gradually moved from Paris across the ocean – to the US. Before that period, Europeans were the main trendsetters in painting, however, in the 1930s – 1940s American artist stepped into the spotlight, offering some innovative movements, like Abstract Expressionism. Arshile Gorky (1904-1948), the Armenian immigrant, became one of the crucial personalities for its development in the US. Gorky adopted the interest in the realm of unconsciousness and individual background from Surrealism, and deep concentration on the eloquence and self-sufficiency of painterly medium, promoted by lyrical abstraction. He immersed his public right into the pulsating flow of the intensively colored shapes. They vaguely reminded some biomorphic structures, as the artist aspired to depict his personal trauma, as well as the senses nostalgia for the lost Motherland and anxiety.
|Painter and Model by Pablo Picasso|
Pablo Picasso, a famous Spanish artist from the 20th Century, started his career painting representational pieces. In around 1910, he developed Cubism, which is the drawing of planes and angles that vaguely looked like the people he was drawing, but looked more like geometry. The artist was one of the most influential artists of the 20th century. His use of form, color, and perspective strongly impacted younger generations of artists, including Willem de Kooning, David Hockney. The artist talent was cultivated early on by his father who was also a painter. He went on to attend the Royal Academy of San Fernando in Madrid and lived for a time in Barcelona before settling in Paris in 1904. In circles of Gertrude Stein, he rapidly transitioned from Neo-Impressionism. He was in constant search of pictorial solutions and in dialogue with his friend Georges Braque, Picasso melded forms he saw in African sculpture with the multiple perspectives he gleaned from Paul Cézanne, to produce Cubism. Not limited to painting, the artist also expressed himself through collage, sculpture, and ceramics.
His short but bright life was the inspiration for the younger masters, like Franz Kline (1910-1962). Kline produced his first abstract canvases in the late 1940s. They were noticeable for the large-scale and amplified contrast of large, bold brushstrokes. Kline limited himself with the minimum of visual instruments to make the viewer’s experience even stronger. He juxtaposes his paintings that represent the author’s gesture with the utmost strength, to the surrounding world, formed by the standardized images of mass culture. Every movement of his brush left the visual evidence of the intellectual and physical contribution of the artist. Franz Kline masterfully used the ‘broken’ silhouettes, associated with the half-destroyed or abandoned buildings, bridges or scaffoldings. Despite using only three pigments (white, black and grey), he achieved the hypnotizing profoundness of the pieces. Their powerful aesthetic was close to the oriental tradition of calligraphy.
Another prominent representative of the Post-war American abstract art was Mark Rothko (1903-1970). Born Markuss Rotkovičs; similar to Groky, he was the son of the immigrants from the Russian Empire. As many of the above-mentioned masters, Rothko started as a rather traditional painter. Slowly, the influence of the European Surrealists and Nietzsche's philosophy catalyzed changes in the artist’s creative approach, resulting in the first abstractions dedicated to the Antique mythology. Finally, he completely rejected figurative imagery, concentrating on color and its ability to communicate emotions and directly affect the recipient. By the early 1950s, Rothko found his recognizable style: big color rectangles with smudged soft edges. He wanted to get rid of any clear lines in his pieces; being viewed from a certain distance (the author insisted it should be 18 inches or roughly half a meter), they occupy the whole field of view, so we occur ‘in’ the painting. Such effect of floating in the eternal color space is reflected in the title of the painting movement Rothko gave birth to – Colour field painting.
|Mark Rothko||Barnett Newman|
Among the most significant masters, who defined the development of Colour field painting in the USA we should mention the name of Barnett Newman (1905-1970). Similar to Gorky or Rothko, Newman’s way to success was complicated, as the master had to face the public’s unacceptance and misunderstanding of his artistic philosophy. He had his first solo exhibition at the age of 45, and it received harsh criticism. The author destroyed all his early works and dedicated himself fully to the new style, which became the predecessor of minimalism. He made big evenly painted canvases with color blocks that were divided with thin line Newman called ‘zip’ – it could be interpreted like as a spark that illuminates the densely rendered space of color. From the visual point of view, this line was meant to underline the flatness of a piece, showing its similarity with a wall painting is displayed on. Thus, canvases become the part of the exhibition space and can’t be viewed in isolation from it. As Russian-German philosopher and art critic Boris Groys noted, Newman completely ousted any anthropomorphic elements from his works, turning painting in what it is supposed to be – color applied over the surface. But the artist himself didn’t put the formal side of his pieces in the first place, believing them to be symbolical. He preferred metaphorical and meaningful titles that had to unveil the intellectual and poetical side of the abstractions.
If Kline, Rothko, Newman tried to demonstrate the self-standing nature of painting as an object, another American master Jackson Pollock (1912-1956) moved the focus from the result to the process. Pollock introduced the new way of rendering a piece: he took canvas from the wall and put it on the floor. This way the author appears inside the canvas and gets the new angle of its perception. Pollock was driven by the desire to find the style, which wouldn’t replicate European samples and reflect the American spirit. He referred to the local historical heritage, like shamanic practices of the indigenous tribes. Mixing it with the postulates of psychoanalysis and Jungian archetypes, he came to the idea of ‘dripping technique,’ when the paint was dripped and poured on the canvas. This allowed establishing the direct connection between the artist’s movement and inner state, and their visual traces on canvas. That is why Pollock’s method received the name of ‘action painting’ – one needs to analyze it from the processual side to get the full grasp of a piece.
|Nicolas de Staël|
Now it was Europeans’ turn to respond the new art tendencies brought over the Atlantic. Tachism or Art Informel was the European version of Abstract Expressionism. It was represented by the whole number of the outstanding painters, but probably it is Nicolas de Staël (1914-1955), who is best-known to the wide public. He was the son of Russian immigrants from France. In the early stages of his career, de Staël was inspired by the Byzantine art. Having an amazing sense of freedom both in his mind and in his hands, the artist originates his own poetic language. Like an alchemist, he explored the energy of color and paint’s structure. In his first abstractions, pigments are applied with a palette knife in thick irregular ‘bricks,’ combined with the inlays of goldish hues as the homage to the tradition of Byzantine mosaic. Later he found the balance between abstract form and figurative subjects that seem to ‘accidently’ evolve out of the relief-like texture of the canvases. By the mid-1950s, the master returned from palette knife to brush, rendering the ephemerally translucent surfaces.
The decisive point for the formation of de Staël as a painter was moving to Nice. Another artist, whose vision emerged under the azure sky of the South of France, was Yves Klein (1928-1962). Born in Nice, he moved to Paris, where found a small studio. As the legend says, since it was in the basement of the building and had no windows, Klein painted its ceiling in blue color in order not to be overly depressed. This how his pursuit of the very-own ideal hue to express the immateriality and infinity of space began. With the help of Rhone Poulenc pharmaceutical company, the master manufactured International Klein Blue (IKB) color. Its vibrancy brought fame to Klein’s monochrome canvases and objects. He also used it in the performances, where models covered themselves with the pigment and then painted with bodies over canvases as a kind of human brushes.
|Yves Klein||Pierre Soulages|
By their meditative atmosphere, abstract compositions of Pierre Soulages (b. 1919) are different and at the same time similar to those by Yves Klein. If the latter glorified color, Soulages has always favored black. It was applied broadly and confidently, with wide brushes or even mop-like ones. None of his contemporaries has ever used black so radically. The paradox is that the artist’s obsession with black comes from his intention to capture the substance of light. And darkness, as the total opposition to light, can be the perfect contrast that brings out its essence.
Man Ray was one of the famous Surrealist artists. Surrealism was a movement that included visual arts and writing that developed in the 1920s. The artist career is special above all for the success he had achieved in the United States and Europe. He matured in the center of American modernism in the 1910s, he moved to Paris in the 20s to 30s, and in the 1940s he went back, staying in New York and Hollywood. His art is diverse from film, painting, sculpture, and in his career, he used styles influenced by Cubism, Futurism, Dadaism, and Surrealism. The artist established in the worlds of commercial and fine art and became a sought-after fashion photographer.
|MAN RAY Revolving Doors||Gheorghe Virtosu The Century of Duck|
Gheorghe Virtosu is one of the famous contemporary artists. He is the master who does not deny reality in his abstract oil paintings. The artist paints under the impulse of revelation-ideas born as sparks impossible to control, which light an entire series of subsequent actions. He admits that changes can occur during the artistic process, especially regarding the dimensions and colors used, but sustains that the spark, as a moment of inspiration, is the one deciding how the work will eventually look. He works outside of time, outside of any canons, rules, norms. He does not affiliate itself to any style; he works freely, under the impulse of suffering, hoping that his message will be perceived as a positive one – a struggle that must never be abandoned! “Sacrifice is natural when it comes to creating something unique, something majestic,” says Gheorghe Virtosu.
These famous abstract artists changed the way we think about painting. The magnetism of abstract art is its ability to inspire our subconscious curiosity that reaches our imagination. We have the ability to create unique things in the world. Abstract work communicates with the viewer in an attempt of the last to understand reality. Reality is subjective, so the viewer defines it to its own perception.
The 21st Century saw a strong emergence of different art, as progress brought in new opportunities. It took different shapes depending on the period, as we are in the postmodern world, abstract art is set to further evolve. Artists always react to the developments in society they live in. We expect to see new great abstract forms.
Abstract art is a miracle. A painting means something! The greatness of abstraction is one of the most moving achievements of modern times. Same as people get connected to music vibes it happens with abstract art. For the viewer, the artwork is like music to the ear.
To define meanings, down to our knowledge, one needs the generosity of spirit to accept what isn’t immediately understandable.
Virtosu Art Gallery Abstract Collection of Works