What is Abstract Expressionism (or Ab Ex to its friends)? Well, if we agree that abstract art is generally art that is not 'representative' - i.e. is not a 'representation', or copy, of something in the outside world - and that expressionism is about expressing your thoughts, feelings and ideas - then I guess a reasonable working definition would be that Abstract Expressionists aim to communicate something from the artist's inner world without necessarily using anything in the external world to do this. (Apologies to all the art historians out there who are currently doing a very good impression of Munch's Scream, but hey, it works for me.)
Actually, there are those who would argue that Abstract Expressionism is not a movement or group at all - primarily, most of the artists within it. Rothko famously stated, 'I am not an abstractionist. I'm not interested in relationships of colour or form or anything else. I'm interested only in expressing basic human emotions: tragedy, ecstasy, doom and so on'. The paintings don't really share a particular style; in fact, the canvasses are so full of spontaneity and individuality that apparently the CIA covertly funded Abstract Expressionist exhibitions during the Cold War as an act of propaganda, to lure intellectuals and artists away from Communism by comparing the freedom of these deeply subjective works with the the rigid confines limiting creativity under Soviet rules.
One of the unexpected gifts of this exhibition was the work of Clyfford Still, an artist I wasn't familiar with before this. In my defence, Still rejected the commercialism of the art world (a pet hate of Rothko's too) and moved to a farm in Maryland, selling hardly any of his paintings; 95% of his work is in a museum dedicated to him in Denver, Colorado and this is one of the few times they have loaned it out. I'm very glad they did, as they are powerful and striking pieces, again designed to actively involve the viewer.
So, even if you think you're not into abstract art, go to this exhibition. Go on your own so you don't have to react in any particular way, and go with an open mind. Don't worry about understanding them, don't try to define what they are about, or of; just stand, look and wait.
Yours, enthralled all over again,
London Girl About Town xx