It was Karen’s birthday recently, and we went down to London to see the Abstract Expressionism exhibition at the Royal Academy. We were both blown away by the work on show. It ranged from the influences and beginnings, right up to some later works of the artists involved in that movement.
One of the influences was the work of Armenian-born artist, Archile Gorky, which was brilliant in itself. The highly expressive lines in his drawing were very influential on both Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock. There was a whole room of Gorky, one of de Kooning and two rooms of Pollock. All of which buzzed with life and living expression. It was fantastic to see a good range of work from these greats. However there was a vast number of other artists’ work on display too.
The Franz Kline had an immediacy and boldness of expression. Minimal, both in their colours and in their forms, but violent in execution. Very striking.
The Robert Motherwell pictures, of which there were only a few, were in some cases similar to the Kline ones. But there was a collage of his which I really found exciting. It was a picture of New York City, in mostly blue and black, and was very loose and free. I kept on being drawn back to it, again and again. I am after all a collage artist myself.
Mark Rothko had a room to himself too. I have seen some Rothkos before at Tate Modern. The disorientating dreamlike pull of them holds me trance-like in the grip of their dark beauty.
There was also a lot of work by lesser-known artists of the era. The Lee Krasner paintings showed a similarity to her partner Pollock’s, but her work had something beautiful about it too, and was distinctly hers. Joan Mitchell’s work stood out, as did the Clyfford Still and the Sam Francis ones. There was also a black-painted wooden sculpture by Louise Nevelson. This was a large wall assemblage of boxes and a vast array of wooden objects, like bits of table and chair legs, wooden tools and cut-out shapes etc. All painted black, I found it quite difficult to focus on and it grew in time as I stood before it.
Most of the work in this exhibition was vast in size. Some of it was hard to take in without physically moving along it, or standing at a range of distances away. One thing for me is that I like to get up as close as possible, to see the way the paint reacts against adjacent colours, to study the brush-strokes, and to nearly be able to feel the textures and any objects embedded within. Almost to breathe it all in.
There was so much to see, and I’ve only scratched the surface here really. What I would like to have seen was some work by Robert Rauschenberg, but there was nothing of his. Perhaps he was not officially an abstract expressionist, but he was working in that time and place, and with those influences. All in all though, it was a fantastic experience to be amongst some of the greatest work of the twentieth century. We were in there for just over two and a half hours, and we both came back feeling inspired. I’d recommend it to anyone.