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Notes on Abstract Impressionism

Abstract Impressionism became well known in the 50’s in America.  It was Elaine De Kooning, wife of the artist Willem De Kooning who first used the term.  Elaine De Kooning, a respected artist in her own right, was a critic for Art News and became highly respected in that field as well. Once she coined this new term it was not long before it was adopted by artists and critics alike.

American painter Jackson Pollock was an important figure who helped introduce Abstract Impressionism to the world.  Both Pollock and Mark Rothko were practitioners of the more abstract school.  Canadian artist Jean-Paul Riopelle and American Joan Mitchell brought Abstract Impressionism to Paris.

While Abstract Impressionism is sometimes compared to Abstract Expressionism there are very definite differences.  

Abstract Impressionism like Abstract Expressionism is worked on large or small canvases but the Abstract Impressionist will use smaller more intense brushstrokes reflecting and analysing space.   Real life objects are represented through simplified somewhat abstract shapes and the degree of abstraction varies a great deal with the practitioner.  Abstract Impressionists tend to believe strongly in freedom of expression and individuality preferring to emphasize the artist’s own style over pure representation.

Of course, real objects are painted and can be recognizable but any detail of the object can be ignored. Brush strokes are short and intense with the shapes, colours and textures reflecting an emotional state.  Non traditional paints and methods of application vary with or without purpose.  Abstract Impressionists believe that a painting should always look like a painting and not a photograph.  This distinguishes them from other contemporary representational painters.

“My paintings aren’t about art issues.  They’re about a feeling that comes to me from the outside, from landscape...My paintings have to do with feelings.

Joan Mitchell, 1974.

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