25 Jun 2021
6 Abstract Artists You Should Know
We shine a light on six abstract artists you should know, including Jackson Pollock, Hilma af Klint and Unframe artist Peter Spanjer.
We have compiled a list of the compelling work of six abstract artists in history. The word ‘abstract’ eludes to something vague and not easily understood, however abstract art often becomes the opposite of this. As a rule, abstract art does not attempt to represent accurate depictions of visual reality. Instead, artists create abstracted art through their use of shapes, forms colours and gestural mark-making to achieve this. As a medium, many see abstract art as carrying a spiritual dimension grounded in simplicity and theory. Without a doubt, abstract art has influenced contemporary art today. In a variety of forms, it has produced some of the most memorable and influential art in history.
Hilma af Klint
The Russian artist Wassily Kandinsky is generally regarded as a pioneer of abstract art. Although, the Swedish artist Hilma af Klint (1862-1944) may claim that title. Klint created her first ever abstract painting in 1906 in Stockholm, where she lived at the time. Klint’s path towards abstraction began from a fascination with invisible forces. By the end of the 19th century, natural scientists had discovered infrared light, X-rays and electromagnetic fields. She began painting this exciting ephemera in all of its glory, always in a painterly and considered way.
“The pictures were painted directly through me, without any preliminary drawings, and with great force. I had no idea what the paintings were supposed to depict; nevertheless I worked swiftly and surely, without changing a single brush stroke.” Hilma Af Klint
Klint’s paintings often present the viewer with recognisable forms and motifs, however are re-shaped to abstracted. As an artist, she is a perfect example of abstraction at its purest form. Klint paints fluidly and without attention to meticulous line or pattern. Her paintings are spiritual whilst also portraying a deeply personal world which we are invited to for a moment.
Russian artist Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944) developed a strong belief in the elusive possibilities of form in colour within his renowned abstract art. He is known as having created some of the first abstract art of the twentieth century. Subsequently, due to his ideas which were based in theosophy. This was a movement that focused on following transcendental truths, unable to be explained by science. Ultimately, music was what inspired him to create artworks of high spirituality. Kandinsky drew upon the relationship between painting and music. In particular, he worked on the artistic expression related to the two.
“Music has been for some centuries the art which has devoted itself not to the reproduction of natural phenomena, but rather to the expression of the artist’s soul, in musical sound.” Wassily Kandinsky
Kandinsky attempted to paint music, sparked by his desire to capture an artist’s experience of aural and visual sensation. He had a condition called ‘synesthesia’, which allowed him to see sounds as colours and hear colours and forms as sounds.
Throughout his career, French artist Henri Matisse (1869-1954) worked in the realms of painting, sculpture and printmaking. Matisse is celebrated as an artist who brought art back to its essentials. The relationship between this and Matisse as a skilled draftsmen is visible in his early work on dancing figures. These artworks were paper cut-outs in rich blues and greens. During this time, Matisse said he ‘cut directly into vivid colour’ for his abstracted collage pieces. However, his breakthrough as an established artist began in 1904. In this case, he created optically diverse abstract works of bright and contrasting paper cut-outs.
“I don’t paint things. I only paint the difference between things.” Henri Matisse
He constructed coloured surfaces, which ended up being an approach which remained central in his life’s work. Matisse mastered the expressive atmosphere of colour and drawing in his abstract pieces. Subsequently, Matisse was integral to the re-thinking of art-making during the 1950s and 1960s. His varied work is based almost purely on aestheticism and beauty. Eventually, making it one of the most entrancing abstract work in art history.
Joan Miro & Abstract Art
Spanish artist Joan Miro (1893-1983) created a plethora of abstract paintings during his distinguished artistic career. Miro is often ranked as one of the finest Catalan artists ever alongside Antoni Gaudi and Salvador Dali. Miro’s paintings combine the influence of the wealth of history in the Catalan region as well as the pride felt there. In his art practice, he delves into the realms of the subconscious mind. His surreal and abstract paintings can be likened to the work of Dali, however Miro had his own distinctive style. Above all, his paintings stand out in 20th century art history and have considerable influence on contemporary painting.
“I begin my paintings because something jolts me away from reality. This shock can be caused by a little thread that comes loose from the canvas, a drop of water that falls, the fingerprint my thumb leaves on the shiny surface of this table.” Joan Miro
His paintings ‘Femme dans la nuit’ and”People at Night, Guided by the Phosphorescent Tracks of Snails’ in particular, allow us to delve into his vibrant imagination. His compositions are gestural and elude to figures rather than direct references to real form. He creates overlapping shapes and lines which form the array of imagery. His abstract paintings are suggestive and give an impression of scattered, recorded thoughts and musings.
American artist Paul Jackson Pollock (1912-1956) was a major figure in the abstract expressionist movement. He is widely acknowledged for his specific technique of both pouring and splashing paint onto horizontal surfaces. This process enabled him to view his paintings as a whole as well as every angle possible. Pollock named them ‘action paintings’ due to the nature of how he made them. He would use his whole body to make his abstract paintings as well as also using dance. This extreme form of abstraction placed his paintings in the lime light at the time, subsequently dividing the response of critics.
“My painting does not come from the easel.” Jackson Pollock
Pollock’s paintings are mesmerising in their lack of focal point. As the viewer, his abstract paintings are without figure and form but not without meaning. Pollock’s paintings in particular evoke a sense of instinctual art-making, as a result of his painterly and energetic strokes. Above all, his paintings are explosive and depict an innate freedom in Pollock’s process.
British artist Ian Stephenson (1934-2000) is one of the most important painters of his generation. In his practice, he was fascinated with the endless possibilities of painting and its elusive nature. His paintings are both immersive and mesmerising due to their vibrant finish. Each artwork is made up of individual tiny dots of paint, together forming constellation-like compositions. The meticulous technique gives the impression that the paint is floating over canvas and paper. Although, overall Stephenson’s paintings may seem like they resemble recognised forms, his work is truly abstract. Within Stephenson’s multi-layered paintings, you get lost in a void of energetic colour.
“Pictures of nothing which are about everything. Pictures of a limitless scale which are pictures of minute particulars. Countless happenings in time present as one simultaneous expression. Emptiness filled with matter. Solids filled with space.” Andrew Forge on Ian Stephenson
Stephenson’s technique of flicking and spraying paint from a brush both reveals and hides what really lies beneath. Edges and planes within the works constantly hold a sense of duplicity. Even the beginning or end of Stephenson’s paintings are to be questioned. His abstract paintings are full of minute details, heading towards infinity.
Discover Unframe Artists making abstract art…
100 x 70 cm
In Peter Spanjer’s body of abstract print work, crucially he aims to confront his own sensitivities through research on self evaluation and engrained cultural narratives. Spanjer’s work challenges an internalised belief system, in particular he tries to pull apart ‘ideas of blackness’ within the contemporary art world. For his ‘Eros’ series, he chooses gay & black adult films as the subject of these vibrant prints. Importantly, in his process he uses the video as the starting point to extract stills from, once he completes this he destroys the film. For Spanjer, the medium becomes something that is interchangeable and that adapts through his making process. As an artist, he focuses on fluidity in his practice as he moves across different media to find what is right for each work.
100 x 70 cm
For Spanjer, he focuses on the journey of collecting the imagery as a process in itself. In the making of these prints, in particular he conjures themes of conflict. Mostly, this stems from unanswered and unresolved questions. In the same way, he addresses ‘intention’ in his work. Most often, he makes decisions of whether the work will end up as a moving image or still image. All in all, Spanjer creates his colour print work from a very personal place whilst he addresses personal resolutions. He uses conflict and resolution as two ideals to work from, his interest lying in standing with conflict and addressing it. For these new prints, Spanjer intended the works to be far more explicit than they became, due to the nature of the imagery he used. An equally important aspect to his process, is to analyse the original source to a point of eventual abstraction.
Becca May Collins
I am Worried a lot
Oil on Paper, 2020
13cm x 13cm
Becca May Collins
Welsh born, London-based artist Becca May Collins predominantly addresses nostalgia in her memory landscape work. In her painterly depictions, mostly Collins explores the evolving sentimentality that can be felt towards a place through memory landscape. As well as this, she draws on location to gain knowledge and understanding of a space. Afterwards, she reconstructs these scenes from memory in her studio. All in all, she gives the viewer an insight into the intangible in her memory landscape works. She explores the evolution of emotions felt towards a place, or a ‘sense of place’. She most often works with specific sites over time and she uses image-making as a way to materialise hazy and warped memories. In turn, these strengthen her connection to a place and the objects that live in those places. She currently makes work around the theme of the Home.
Becca May Collins
In my dreams
Oil on Paper, 2020
25.6cm x 18.3cm
As an artist, she explores the development of sentimentality towards a site. Above all, she concerns herself with drawing attention to the emotional relationships with domestic environments. Through this, Collins creates a memory landscape, treating it as a snapshot of a time and place. She often focuses her work around sites, places and memories linked to personal memory and nostalgia. In particular, for her series ‘Home, Brecon Beacons’ she created a number of paintings made by memory. She depicts the Welsh landscape in such a way that it becomes elusive and dream-like. All in all, she makes her compositions vibrant and figurative, due to the nature of which they are painted.