The 1940s was a turbulent time throughout the world, and this was reflected in the art of the period. During World War II, European artists fled to America. New ideas and ways of thinking about art were fomented, resulting in the formation of a new art movement known as abstract expressionism.
Art in the 1940s
Prior to World War II, Paris was the center of the art world. After the war, New York City became the focal point for artists due to the influx of European artists and intellectuals who congregated there after fleeing the Nazis. These new arrivals were greatly influenced by the Cubist and Surrealist movements, and this artistic dialogue between European and American artists resulted in a new movement that became known as abstract expressionism. American art in the 1930s had been dominated by naturalist painters, such as Edward Hopper, but abstract expressionism took art in bold new directions. The movement eschewed any attempt at capturing figures, instead focusing on color and shape, such as painting an entire canvas a single color.
Jackson Pollack was one of the key figures in the abstract expressionist movement. Throughout the 1940s, Pollack was experimenting with various techniques. In 1946, he took the bold step of doing away with his easel entirely, laying the canvas on the floor. This allowed him to pour and drip paint onto the canvas, using knives and sticks to manipulate the colors. Sometimes he would add such textural items as sand and broken glass and would also attach canvases to walls and fling paint at them.
Mark Rothko was born in Russia and came to the U.S. in 1913. Largely self-taught, he was greatly influenced by the surrealist movement, typified by artists such as Salvador Dali, but by the latter part of the 1940s he began delving into abstract expressionism. Rothko's style was distinctive in that he would paint large rectangles that would seem to melt into each other. Rothko would use color to convey emotions and even spiritual concepts.
Andrew Wyeth remains one of the most important American artists of the 20th century. Unlike Pollack and Rothko, Wyatt's work was naturalistic, and his best-known paintings are portraits and landscapes. Wyatt's art was shaped by tragedy when his father and young nephew were killed in a car accident in 1945. This event caused a shift in Wyatt's work, and his paintings took on a more mature style characterized by subdued colors and subject matter that was more emotionally charged than his previous work.