Post -war attitudes to painting

Research Post-war attitudes to Painting

The 1930’s witnessed a number of influential European artists moved to New York, America, including Arshile Gorky, Marcel Duchamp, Salvador Dali, Piet Mondrian, and Max Ernst and German teachers Joseph Albers and Hans Hofmann who spread new European ideas amongst the American art community.  They left behind the ruins of Europe after years of warfare and the emergence of the Fascist regimes, philosophically opposed to ‘de-generate art’.

Paris had previously been the most important centre of art practice, but after WW2, a crucial change took place, as American artists became aware of the European modernist movements and the centre of art moved to New York City where art patronage was more available from newly rich American industrialists.

Art has always evolved through what has gone before, sometimes through rebellion, each period had its own identity and artists painted the way they saw the world during their time.  Attitudes to art are continually changing and from the mid1940s, traditional figurative painting was considered outdated, and not representing the new world and the emotional response to it.

Jackson Pollock, an ‘Action Painter’, in an interview with William Wright said

‘It seems to me that the modern painter cannot express this age, the airplane, the atom bomb, the radio, in the forms of the Renaissance or of any other past culture.  Each age finds its own technique’.  Pollock, (1950).

Around the mid-1940s, ‘Abstract Expressionism’ emerged with Jackson Pollock’s new techniques which used spontaneous expressive strands of dripping paint, which he called painting in the air, and Mark Rothko’s ‘Colour Field Painting’ which had complex overlaid misty colours that were aimed at appealing to or expressing human emotions.

‘Op Art’, ‘Pop Art’, and ‘Minimalism’, began in the 1950s with ‘Conceptual Art’, ‘Performance Art’, ‘Photorealism’, ‘Earth Art’ following in the 1960s and ‘Neo-Expressionism’ and ‘Post Modernism from the 70s to today.

Each period of art moved forward with the technological advances of mediums and fast-moving changes in our way of life taking place.

‘Abstract Expressionism’ was a pivotal breakthrough and a major influence on the changes that followed.

I relate to artists who keep trying something new, for instance, David Hockney, who has found a way of creating iPad scenes around his new home in Normandy.  In his Book ‘Spring cannot be Cancelled : David Hockney in Normandy’ tells us he has helped develop a special iPad programme to enable improved mark making techniques.

I also, enjoy Andrew Wyeth’s (1917-2009) detailed representational paintings of people and the area around his home in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, USA.  He has always had an air of mystery and other worldliness to his paintings which I find very moving.  He was extremely successful in his lifetime, but the Art World at the time seemed to dismiss him because he appeared not to be in tune with the current vogue of non-representational painting.  It was said ‘He could paint the wind’.  His portraits were of friends, neighbours, vagrants, many of them black at a time when few black faces were being put to canvas and he always found the dignity and humanity in everyone of his subjects.  I had the same reaction to Albert Irving as I did to Andrew Wyeth finding them both easy to love. 

Is there a period in recent art history who you feel has a similar view of the role of painting as you do? 

David Hockney is an artist who I continually return to, I feel the same affinity to landscape as he does. His work to me is representational because you feel you could step into the picture, but not in a finicky detailed way.  He has embraced so many different movements from Pop Art onwards.  I find it difficult to put him in a category.

I found Jessica Zoob, a British Contemporary artist from Sussex, on a YouTube video ‘Playing with the Edges’ where she talks about her landscape work, based on places she likes to sit and contemplate while she views landscapes and watery reflections.  I like her attitude to paint and the way she works in layers building up and scraping back. Gerherd Richter’s Cage paintings springs to mind when I view Zoob’s paintings, they seem to have similarlities in production.

How would you summarise your attitude to paint and painting?

Reflecting on my relationship with paint and painting, it is something I feel compelled to do. I love the fluidity of paint, watercolour, acrylic and oils and the variety of consistencies and methods of application that can be achieved.  My recent research has made me more confident to explore a more abstract method of painting and embark on a subject without a specific outcome in mind.  I want to use vibrant colours that I see in my mind’s eye. 

I spent a lot of time during the Painting Two working with fluid acrylic paint with added chemicals that produced some fantastic colour combinations.  Reading the Course notes it says don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.  In my case it could mean don’t throw my representational work away or my fluid paintings.  I feel I need to continue to explore fluid painting to find out where it takes me.

I become absorbed when painting en plein air, being able to observe nature at close hand affects all my senses.  The sun on my skin, the smell of the blossom, the taste of the air, the light bouncing off the subject, and the fabulous colours of the natural world never cease to amaze me.   It also has more impact on my memory of the place and subject than a photograph could ever do. 


Movements in Twentieth-Century Art After Word WarII   At: (Accessed 10/05/2021).

Art in Theory 1900-2000: an Anthology of Changing Ideas  pp. 582-589 At:  (Accessed 13/05/2021).

Palin, M. (2015) BBC Michael Palin in Wyeth’s World  At:

Rawlings, K. Painters in Post-war New York City At: (Accessed 15/05/2021).

Zoob, J. British Contemporary Artist: Jessica Zoob ‘Playing with the edges’  At:  (Accessed 14/05/2021).

Zoob, J.   Artist’s Biography At: (Accessed 14/05/21).

 Zoob, J  View painting At: (Accessed 14/15/2021).

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