Skip to main content
Humanities LibreTexts

8.6: Abstract Expressionism (Late 1940s – 1960)

  • Page ID
    \( \newcommand{\vecs}[1]{\overset { \scriptstyle \rightharpoonup} {\mathbf{#1}} } \) \( \newcommand{\vecd}[1]{\overset{-\!-\!\rightharpoonup}{\vphantom{a}\smash {#1}}} \)\(\newcommand{\id}{\mathrm{id}}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \( \newcommand{\kernel}{\mathrm{null}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\range}{\mathrm{range}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\RealPart}{\mathrm{Re}}\) \( \newcommand{\ImaginaryPart}{\mathrm{Im}}\) \( \newcommand{\Argument}{\mathrm{Arg}}\) \( \newcommand{\norm}[1]{\| #1 \|}\) \( \newcommand{\inner}[2]{\langle #1, #2 \rangle}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \(\newcommand{\id}{\mathrm{id}}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \( \newcommand{\kernel}{\mathrm{null}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\range}{\mathrm{range}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\RealPart}{\mathrm{Re}}\) \( \newcommand{\ImaginaryPart}{\mathrm{Im}}\) \( \newcommand{\Argument}{\mathrm{Arg}}\) \( \newcommand{\norm}[1]{\| #1 \|}\) \( \newcommand{\inner}[2]{\langle #1, #2 \rangle}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\)\(\newcommand{\AA}{\unicode[.8,0]{x212B}}\)


    In New York City during the late 1940s, a new art style emerged, starting radical new directions in art. The artists associated with the Abstract Expressionists were all different in look as they developed the concept of spontaneity and improvision. Their work was dynamic and gestural, highly abstracted. The artists were influenced by earlier Cubism, Dada, and Surrealism movements, which changed art concepts. The crisis and chaos of World War II exposed the brutality and irrationality of humankind, and the young artists wanted to bring their expressions and feelings into new art. Many European and Asian artists migrated to the United States during and after the war, bringing additional possibilities and influence. The artist wanted their direct feelings and gestures to be part of the process of their work, not a method to reproduce an object. Instead, they wanted the canvas to be part of the painting event. The new movement also shifted the art world's focus from Europe to New York after the war and a new generation of artists. Women

    Some referred to the new movement as action painting. Artists worked on enormous canvases not attached to an easel. In 1962, Clement Greenberg said, "If the label 'Abstract Expressionism' means anything, it means painterliness; loose, rapid handling, or the look of it; masses that blotted and fused instead of shapes that stayed distinct; large and conspicuous rhythms; broken color, uneven saturations or densities of paint, exhibited brush, knife, or finger marks."[1] The figure's role in action painting was perceived as the destruction of the figure, the secondary image. The application methods became part of the new styles ranging from dripping and pouring paint onto the canvas to painting figurative imagery. Abstract Expressionism supported the concepts of non-representational art, mingled colors, and shapes formed through emotion. The artists used rapid brushstrokes, dripped, poured, threw, or splattered paint on large canvases in seemingly random order, the whole canvas of equal importance.

    In 1951, the first abstract art exhibition was held at the Ninth Street Gallery and the breakthrough for this art style. Of the seventy-two artists, only eleven were women. Women artists were still marginalized; their husbands came first. Most women became the foremost female artists to fight for recognition and acceptance. The first major show of the new Abstract Expressionism in Europe was in 1959 at the Tate Gallery in London, billed as a new American style painting. Seventeen artists were in the show; one was a woman. Men were credited as the major developers and painters of the new methods. Jackson Pollock was believed to be the inventor and master of drip painting, yet Janet Sobel created the earliest drip paintings in her kitchen well before Pollock. The new painting style allowed women to express their feelings and explore the properties of paint and its interaction on canvas. At the time, these women were overlooked, discredited, or buried behind their husbands’ reputations. Today, the women of Abstract Expressionism are one set of the first major female artists to receive recognition as pioneers and creators as master artists. Artists in this chapter include:

    • Joan Mitchell (1925-1992)
    • Janet Sobel (1893 – 1968)
    • Lee Krasner (1908-1984)
    • Elaine de Kooning (1918-1989)
    • Helen Frankenthaler (1928-2011)
    • Grace Hartigan (1922 – 2008)
    • Deborah Remington (1930-2010)
    Interactive Element: Women of Abstract Expressionism

    A look at the Denver Art Museum’s recent exhibit showcasing Women of Abstract Expressionism, and we talk to the director of the Clyfford Still Museum for more perspective on this art movement of the mid-twentieth century.

    Joan Mitchell

    Joan Mitchell (1925-1992) was born in Chicago, Illinois, and attended classes at the Chicago Art Institute as a child and teenager. She earned a BFA and MFA before moving for a short New York City stay. After the war, Mitchell went to Paris on a travel fellowship and met an American publisher she subsequently married before returning to New York. In the 1950s, Mitchell was part of the artists who spent time in bars and clubs, discussing art as part of the Abstract Expressionist movement. She became friends with many artists, participated in shows, visited each other's studios, and participated in the New York art scene. Mitchell's first solo exhibition was in 1952, when she divorced her husband. During this period, women artists remained marginalized; however, Mitchell was one of the few women in the group in weekly meetings on East Eighth Street to discuss art.

    Mitchell's work always remained abstract, usually on large, expansive panels. Landscapes were her primary source of inspiration. Throughout the 1950s, she established her style using counterweighted lines and layers of color, forming emotions in her work. She used white backgrounds on her canvas and applied bright chunky colors. Art historian Linda Nochlin stated the "meaning and emotional intensity [of Mitchell's pictures] are produced structurally, as it were, by a whole series of oppositions; dense versus transparent strokes; gridded structure versus more chaotic, ad hoc construction; weight on the bottom of the canvas weight at the top; light verse dark; choppy versus continuous strokes; harmonious and clashing juxtapositions of hue—all are potent signs of meaning and feeling."[2]

    In the 1960s, her father died, and her mother was diagnosed with cancer; Mitchell's work was based on a somber palette. She also started to hang multiple canvases by each other and painted her images across the panels. Mitchell moved to a small town in France near Monet's home, leaving her friends and the art community in New York. Throughout her career, Mitchell worked with pastels and oils and was a printmaker and book illustrator.

    many colors painted onto a canvas
    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): Lady Bug (1957, oil on canvas, 197.8 x 274.3 cm) (CC BY-NC 2.0)

    mostly blue and green paint in various shapes
    Figure \(\PageIndex{2}\): My Landscape II (1967, oil on canvas, 261.3 x 181.6 cm) (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

    Ladybug (8.6.1) appears spontaneous; however, Mitchell judiciously planned her paint application. Using broad brushstrokes, she built layers of different hues of colors letting the excess paint dribble down the canvas. Colors overlapped; some layers built up, and others formed spots. Mitchell carefully applied the paint when she created this painting, respecting the relationship between each color and how much paint was part of the brushstroke. Like her contemporaries, she did not approach the work as a compositional image; instead, each stroke became part of the overall image. My Landscape II (8.6.1) is a wide window open to the exceptionally colored garden. When Mitchell created this image, she lived in France, and the house had a view of the river and the immediate surrounding landscape. The bright blues anchor the paintings as longer green lines appear as vines and leaves. She covered the canvas with complex brushstrokes and colorful places of raspberry and yellow spaces.

    black, blue, green, and white paint in different shapes
    Figure \(\PageIndex{3}\): Quatuor II for Betsy Jolas (1976, oil on canvas, 279.4 x 680.7 cm) (CC BY-NC 2.0)

    Mitchell's Quartet II for Betsy Jolas (8.6.3) is an exquisite masterpiece that showcases the artist's remarkable skill in capturing the beauty of vast fields. The painting is characterized by thick brushstrokes of paint, carefully applied in white, green, violet, and blue shades, which create a stunning visual effect. The artwork also features running drips of paint that add a unique touch to the composition, making it stand out from other works of art. Moreover, the painting seems to depict glimpses of the sky shining through the dense vegetation, adding to its overall beauty and making it look like a real overgrown garden.

    Interactive Element: Joan Mitchell

    During her lifetime, artist Joan Mitchell (1925–1992) wasn't as celebrated as her male peers. But as evidenced in a new exhibition at the Baltimore Museum of Art, the abstract expressionist created startlingly colorful and lyrical works that reflect the intensity of a life lived on her terms.

    Janet Sobel

    Janet Sobel (1893 – 1968) was born in Ukraine as Jennie Olechovsky. After her father was killed in the Russian pogrom, Sobel moved with her mother and siblings to New York City. When Sobel was sixteen, she married and had five children. She didn't start to paint until 1939; her son bought her art supplies and helped her develop her skills. Sobel frequently used music to inspire, filling the canvas as she worked. During World War II, she was horrified by stories of the Holocaust, reviving the trauma of her youth and the pogroms again Russian Jews before she came to the United States. Sobel's work is often considered the forerunner of Abstract Expressionism and significantly influenced Jackson Pollock's drip painting method and overall coverage. Sobel was initially successful in an early 1945 exhibition. However, her career waned when a few critics called her work too primitive and deemed her a housewife who painted. Critics at the time were compelling and could make or break a career.

    Sobel invented her painting process and poured paint on a canvas, tipping the canvas so the paint ran in different directions, also blowing wet lacquer. Sobel used the enamel paint her husband used to make costume jewelry. The enamel paint was fast drying and displayed a jewel-like finish. The canvas in Milky Way (8.6.4) was covered from edge to edge as she incorporated drips as spalts and lines from her brush. At first glance, it appears Sobel used a limited palette; however, close observation reveals a broad spectrum of colors; lilacs, red, orange, yellow, blue, gray, and brown. Some of the paint was applied with a glass pipette, blowing lines as she moved. Areas of the painting appear cloudy yet tied together by tapering lines. Her work was ignored for decades until the late 1990s when this painting was included in a show of women artists. Later Sobel became known as “the grandmother of drip painting.”

    multiple colors with white swirling lines
    Figure \(\PageIndex{4}\): Milky Way (1945, enamel on canvas, 114 x 75.9 cm) (Public Domain Mark 1.0)

    Lee Krasner

    Lee Krasner (1908-1984) was born in Brooklyn, New York. Her parents were Jewish immigrants from Russia (now Ukraine) to escape the Russo-Japanese war. After high school, Krasner always wanted to be an artist and went to a technical art school, learning to copy the old masters and produce anatomically correct images. Unfortunately, few paintings are left from her early career because a fire destroyed her work. The Museum of Modern Art opened in 1929, and during the 1930s, Krasner attended classes in modern art ideas, leading her to question her work and modernize her style. She worked for the Works Progress Administration Federal Art Project (WPA), painting murals. By 1940, Krasner joined the abstract artists' group, meeting many new artists, including the beginnings of her relationship with Jackson Pollock. Krasner's work became very abstract, part of her continual reinvention as she worked with paint, charcoal, and collages. She frequently cut up her work to use in other collages or even destroyed her work if she was not satisfied. Today, very little of her work survives. In 1945 Krasner married Jackson Pollock, a tempestuous relationship (Pollock was considered an alcoholic). When they moved to Long Island to escape the city influences, Krasner worked on collages, even using parts of Pollock's discarded work. Unfortunately, in 1956, Pollock died in a car crash. Krasner moved from her small bedroom studio to the big studio Pollock used in the barn, where she started working on her more expansive canvases. Her work was not well-known at the time, and she had few opportunities until the death of Pollock.

    Interactive Element: Lee Krasner

    The established narrative of art history—especially the story of the abstract expressionist movement—often omits the significant contributions made by women. But, in this episode of Expert Voices, reconsider that narrative with Author and Journalist Mary Gabriel as she explores the life of Lee Krasner through the artist’s monumental painting Sun Woman I.

    brown, black, and white painting applied randomly
    Figure \(\PageIndex{5}\): Polar Stampede (1960, oil on canvas, 243.8 x 412.4 cm) (CC BY-NC 2.0)

    white, black, and maroon paint randomly applied
    Figure \(\PageIndex{6}\): Another Storm (1963, oil on canvas, 4.47 x 2.38m) (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

    After Krasner moved into Pollock's grand studio in the barn, she used vast pieces of canvas for her work. She created Polar Stampede (8.6.5) at night when she had insomnia. Many historians believe this was her release from Pollock's control after his death. Because she painted at night in dim light, she did not see the colors very well, and instead of her usual vibrant colors, she used browns, grays, and whites. Although the painting might be reminiscent of Pollock's style, she exhibited control that Pollock lacked. In Another Storm (8.6.6), Krasner used the brush to scrap across the canvas, letting the paint bleed into the canvas. She also allowed the unpainted canvas sections to show, not compelled to cover every spot. She masterfully used a palette spectrum from orange to purple, highlighted by browns. Her work did not drip from the brush; the paint was purposefully applied.

    The Seasons (8.6.7) was the monumental painting Krasner created after her husband, Jackson Pollock, died in a car accident. She used bright, bold colors based on plant forms on the canvas. Because she had moved to the barn, Krasner used the space to stretch the immense canvas for the painting on a scale she never used before, allowing her to apply broad swaths of color. The lines and colors developed ideas and concepts as part of other images while the large dark lines swirled around the canvas. Krasner thinned down the paint in some areas, allowing the paint to flow as her tears ran from her eyes, so saddened by her husband’s death. Krasner’s use of contrasting red and green bring the concepts of the seasons moving throughout the painting, a blossom here or fruit there. Krasner stated, “I’ve never understood the fixed image. I’ve never experienced this state of being where you fix an image, which becomes your identification…It’s rigid. Its purity is alarming, so to speak. It terrifies me in a sense.”[3]

    red, green and white paint randomly applied
    Figure \(\PageIndex{7}\): The Seasons (1957, oil and house paint on canvas, 235.6 x 517.8 cm) (CC BY-NC 2.0)

    Elaine de Kooning

    Elaine de Kooning (1918-1989) was born in New York, the oldest of four children. Early in her life, her mother supported de Kooning's artistic talents by teaching her to draw images she viewed at museum visits. Unfortunately, her mother was sent to a psychiatric facility when de Kooning was still a child. After high school, de Kooning studied art at different places where one of her teachers introduced her to Willem de Kooning at a time, he was thirty-four and she was twenty. He taught her art and was a harsh critic, even demolishing some of her drawings. Frequently, he set up a simple still life for her to draw, studied her sketch, and then tore it up. They married in 1943 and shared a loft and studio space while carrying on affairs outside the marriage. Willem de Kooning even had a daughter with another woman. Both of de Kooning battled with alcoholism and separated in 1957. Elaine de Kooning stayed in New York City, living in poverty. They were separated for almost twenty years and reunited in 1976. She was considered an accomplished artist and belonged to the Eighth Street Club, a rare ability for a woman. She was serious about her work but continued to promote her husband's work first; she believed he was a genius. As women continued to be marginalized during the Abstract Expressionism movement, de Kooning signed her works with her initials, letting her husband use the de Kooning name. She also taught art at different schools and wrote articles for art magazines.

    De Kooning used various styles in her art, from abstract to figurative, creating a diverse body of work. She believed static styles could imprison one's creativity, and she cared more about the character of her work. De Kooning did not create a pure abstraction; instead, she integrated abstraction with figuration, reinventing the idea of the portrait. She masterfully added slashes of bright color across and outside the lines. De Kooning painted portraits of everyone she met, posing the person in a position to define their characteristics.

    De Kooning's most well-known portrait was her commission for President John F. Kennedy. She went to Palm Beach, where the president stayed in 1962, to sketch him in different positions. She used various mediums, pen, pencil, and ink, with charcoal her favorite because it was the fastest. Kennedy and his energy significantly moved De Kooning. He also did not sit still and was encircled by activity, a challenge for her because the light and pose constantly changed. Over two months, she created twenty-three paintings and stacks of drawings, each one different. De Kooning stated she loved "the feeling of the outdoors he radiated" and noted that "on the patio . . . where we often sat . . . he was enveloped by the green of the leaves and the golden light of the sun."[4] This version of John F. Kennedy (8.6.8) is a view of Kennedy seated at a desk with a book in front of him. The colors contrast, the yellow paint forms different views over the painting. Kennedy's eyes appear tired, a reflection of the stress of his job. He seems to sit awkwardly in the chair, perhaps trying to adjust the position of his chronic back pain.

    portrait in yellow and blues of a man reading a book
    Figure \(\PageIndex{8}\): John F. Kennedy (1963, oil on canvas, 115.6 x 262.9 cm) (CC BY 2.0)

    Figure \(\PageIndex{9\): Les Eyzies from the Lescaux Series (1985, Aquatint, 78.1 x 112.6 cm) (CC BY-NC 2.0)

    Although de Kooning had little money, she did visit France and was inspired when she visited the Lascaux caves. She created a series of paintings based on views of the cave walls and the animals drawn thousands of years earlier, including deer and bison. In Les Eyzies (8.6.9), she applied forms of red with broad, dense strokes and streaks of blue and purple washing over the outlines of the primitive animals. De Kooning was fascinated by the original artists' different scales and how some forms were primitive and detailed.

    Interactive Element: Elaine de Kooning

    Elaine de Kooning’s gestural portraits of friends and family were much admired during her lifetime. They included such well-known Americans as poets Frank O’Hara and Allen Ginsberg, critic Harold Rosenberg, choreographer Merce Cunningham and painters Willem de Kooning and Fairfield Porter. De Kooning made abstract and figurative paintings and drawings during the height of Abstract Expressionism in New York City. She is best known for her portrayals of men—Porter once commented that de Kooning’s images of men were “both sympathetic and frighteningly acute.” In her portraits, de Kooning sought and worked to capture the “instantaneous illumination” of recognition: What qualities beyond the attributes of the face make you recognize someone? She characterized her portraits of John F. Kennedy as “a glimpse” of the president through an accumulation of sketches and finished likenesses.

    Helen Frankenthaler

    Helen Frankenthaler (1928-2011) was born in New York City. Her father was a New York State Supreme Court judge, and Frankenthaler grew up with a privileged background. She and her sisters were adequately prepared for advanced education and professional careers. She frequently studied under well-known artists and graduated in 1949 from Bennington College. She married artist Robert Motherwell in 1958 and divorced him in 1971. Frankenthaler started exhibiting her work in 1951 and 1959, regularly exhibiting in international events and solo shows in museums and galleries. Frankenthaler was well-known for her paintings; however, she also produced welded-steel sculptures, created illustrations for printing and books, designed costumes for England's Royal Ballet, and taught at different universities.

    In 1952, Frankenthaler started her innovative soak-and-stain method of painting. Using an unprimed canvas stretched on the studio floor, she poured thinned oil paint on the canvas. The paint was so thin it soaked into the canvas, staining the absorbent canvas. She worked on all sides of the canvas, the thin color oozing across the surface to create a translucent look. Her work almost had a landscape feeling as the great swaths of color bled across the canvas. She believed in the fluidity of paint, not using the motion of a painter as some of the others believed. However, Frankenthaler didn't care about a literal interpretation of her work; she only wanted to create a beautiful picture. Mountains and Sea were three by two meters, and her first large-scale painting using this technique was a method widely acclaimed by her peers. By the early 1960s, Frankenthaler created images with a single stain tone and used acrylic for deeply colored works.

    The Scene with a Nude (8.6.10) depicts Frankenthaler's use of the very thin paint flowing in its path on the canvas in the spaces she applied each color. She frequently left sections of the painting without paint, letting the blank canvas as part of the image. The watery gray torso in the upper left corner flows into splayed legs projecting off the sides of the canvas, a hidden eroticism. Hommage a Chardin (8.6.11) was created with her classic soak-stain method. The saturated color sections contrast to the untreated canvas. The neutral color of grays and browns developed deep color versus the lighter, less intense orange. The scene might be a landscape, fields of different natural plants interspersed with roads, or, as Frankenthaler always said, just a beautiful picture.

    various colors of paint applied randomly on a canvas
    Figure \(\PageIndex{10}\): Scene with Nude (1952, oil and charcoal on canvas, 108.6 x 128.9 cm) ( CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

    various colors of paint applied randomly on a canvas
    Figure \(\PageIndex{11}\): Hommage a Chardin (1957, oil on canvas, 101 x 132.1 cm) (CC BY-NC 2.0)

    While exploring Arizona, Frankenthaler was fortunate enough to be immersed in the vivid and dynamic colors of the desert southwest. During this time, she created one of her most notable pieces, Desert Pass (8.6.12), which was heavily influenced by her innermost thoughts and emotions evoked by the physical experience. Frankenthaler's masterful painting effectively captures the intricate hues of the desert landscape, including the various shades of brown and yellow that are present across the flat sand and hills. Additionally, she incorporated the sporadic green of desert plants in a minimalist approach, which further adds to the overall authenticity and realism of the piece.

    various colors of paint applied randomly on a canvas
    Figure \(\PageIndex{12}\): Desert Pass (1976, acrylic on canvas, 97.2 x 136.5 cm) (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
    Interactive Element: Lee Krasner

    From her childhood in early 1900s Brooklyn to the end of her life in East Hampton, Lee Krasner painted with a distinctive, courageous vision. This vision pushed her to persevere as an artist despite adversity and tragedy. In this episode of Expert Voices, discover Lee Krasner’s resilient spirit and groundbreaking talent through her large-scale masterpiece.

    Grace Hartigan

    Grace Hartigan (1922 – 2008) was born in New Jersey, where she married as a teenager. She and her husband planned to move to Alaska; however, they only went as far as California, where Hartigan had a baby and experimented with painting. Her husband was drafted in 1942, and Hartigan moved to New Jersey to learn drafting at an engineering school. She also worked in an airplane factory to support her son, studying art in her spare time. At one time, Hartigan told an interviewer about painting, "It chose me. I didn't have any talent. I just had genius."[5] She moved to New York City and became part of the downtown scene, one of the artists who all mingled, went to clubs, and influenced the new movement of Abstract Expressionism. Jackson Pollock's approach significantly influenced Hartigan and how he immersed himself in his work. At first, she exhibited her work using the name 'George Hartigan", believing a woman's work would not be taken seriously. Hartigan frequently dressed as a man and developed extensive curse words she liberally used. As Hartigan became successful, she used her first name and was noted as one of the upcoming women painters. She also developed different styles, some abstract and some more figurative. Hartigan did not create any specific and identifiable style because she wanted to be free to paint what she wanted. Over time, she married four times, finally moving to Maryland, where she taught at the university.

    Essex and Hester (8.6.13) are covered in a dark mottled red with heavy black lines, some colored in with paint. The red background has multiple layers of colors underneath to bring out the intense red color we see today. The black lazy winding lines are drawn in each of the four quadrants and contain specific primary colors. The green slightly above the midline is a complementary color of red, giving it a vibration feeling. The blue color on the lower left is a mixture of cobalt blue and white, giving it a dimensional quality. The other two colors, purple and orange, are secondary colors mixed with white, loosely applied on top of the red, which peeks through the paint.

    various colors of paint applied randomly on a canvas
    Figure \(\PageIndex{13}\): Essex and Hester (Red) (1958, oil on canvas, 134.6 x 211.5 cm) (CC BY-NC 2.0)

    various colors of paint applied randomly on a canvas
    Figure \(\PageIndex{14}\): Modern Cycle (1967, oil on canvas, 199.4 x 275.6 cm) (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

    When Hartigan was teaching at a college in Baltimore, she noticed how many male students were fascinated with motorcycles. She painted Modern Cycle (8.6.14) to reflect the interest of the students around her. The motorcycle was portrayed as parts, handlebars, a gas tank, headlights, part of the engine, a woman's legs, and the logo. Hartigan even hung a poster of Brando on his motorcycle as an homage to the subject. The painting has solid colors, colors found on a motorcycle. Gray-silver, red, and yellows are colors found on a motorcycle, and she used or designated each part. Hartigan used red sparingly, moving the viewers around the painting. She considered this one of her favorite paintings.

    Interactive Element

    Grace Hartigan grew up in New Jersey, where she married the boy next door after graduating high school. However, they ended up penniless in Los Angeles, and Hartigan returned to the East Coast pregnant and alone. In 1948 she was mesmerized and fascinated by a Jackson Pollock exhibition and lived briefly on Long Island with the artist and his wife. She worked odd jobs in New York through the 1950s to pay for paint. In 1959, Hartigan married Dr. Winston Price and moved with him to Baltimore, where she worked in a large studio in Fells Point for decades.

    Deborah Remington

    Deborah Remington (1930-2010) was an American abstract artist known for her unique style and contributions to the Abstract Expressionist and Minimalist movements. She was born in Haddonfield, New Jersey, and grew up in various locations across the United States. Remington attended the California School of Fine Arts (now known as the San Francisco Art Institute) in the late 1940s and early 1950s. During this time, she studied under influential artists such as Clyfford Still, Elmer Bischoff, and Richard Diebenkorn. These artists and her exposure to the abstract expressionist movement greatly influenced her artistic development. In the 1950s, Remington began experimenting with abstraction and developed a distinctive style characterized by bold, geometric shapes and vibrant colors. Her paintings often featured large, sweeping forms that suggested movement and energy. She used a variety of mediums, including oil, acrylic, and ink, and her works ranged in scale from small drawings to large-scale canvases.

    During the 1960s, Remington emerged as a significant figure in the Minimalist movement, placing a high value on simplicity, clean lines, and geometric shapes. Over time, her art style evolved to include more precise and hard-edged shapes with a limited color palette, showcasing her exceptional skills in using shapes and colors to convey emotions and ideas. Remington's artwork was heavily influenced by nature, architecture, and Eastern philosophy, and she adeptly incorporated these influences into her abstract artwork. Dover (8.6.15) is an exceptional symmetrical painting showcasing her craft mastery. The painting features shades of red and blue mixed with whites and blacks, creating a mechanical appearance that is both striking and captivating. The white spaces in the painting are cleverly positioned to resemble mirrors, reflecting on each side and the top of the image, creating a sense of depth and dimensionality.

    Lydian (8.6.16) is a truly magnificent display of exceptional artistic talent. It serves as a tribute to the remarkable works of Lydia, a pioneering minimalist artist who has significantly impacted the art world. The image is truly awe-inspiring, with the skillful use of dark hues producing a stunning three-dimensional effect that brings the artwork to life. The dynamic motion and depth infused into the piece are remarkable, as it creates a powerful sense of movement and energy that draws the viewer in. The intricate details and precise execution of the piece are a testament to the artist's mastery of their craft, demonstrating a level of skill and creativity that is truly impressive.

    Remington's work gained recognition and was exhibited in numerous solo and group exhibitions throughout her career. Her artwork can be found in the collections of major museums, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Despite her significant contributions to the art world, Remington's work was often overshadowed by her male counterparts in the abstract expressionist and minimalist movements. However, there has been a renewed interest in her art in recent years, leading to a reevaluation of her place in art history.

    various colors of paint applied randomly on a canvas
    Figure \(\PageIndex{15}\): Dover (1975, oil on canvas) (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

    Screenshot 2023-07-04 at 1.13.25 PM.png
    Figure \(\PageIndex{16}\): Lydian (1965) (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
    Interactive Element

    Deborah Remington (1930 -- 2010) started as an abstract expressionist painter in the 1940s and 1950s. She studied with Hassel Smith and Clyfford Still and was part of the vibrant Beat scene in San Francisco. Her time in Japan and study of calligraphy, followed by a move to New York City, influenced her seminal works during the 1960s and 1970s, which shifted from purely gestural to illusionistic with hints of figuration. The new compositions were structured, centered, and tightly controlled. The imagery was machine-like, steely smooth, and mirrored, modeled in shades of grey with thin shocks of intense red, blue, orange, or green color.

    [1] Marter, J. Ed. (2016). Women of Abstract Expressionism, Yale University Press, p.17.

    [2] Livingston, J. (2002). The Paintings of Joan Mitchell, University of California Press, p. 55.

    [3] Retrieved from

    [4] Ward, D. C. (2018). America’s Presidents: National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Books, p. 35.

    [5] Retrieved from;

    • Was this article helpful?