Top 25 Abstract expressionism artists who changed its history

Throughout the 1940s and 1950s, Abstract Expressionism became a significant art movement in the US. It was a deviation from the conventional method of creating art, which was centred on portraying people, landscapes, and objects realistically. Instead, the emphasis in Abstract Expressionism was on using colours and abstract forms to communicate emotion, energy, and movement.

The artists involved in this movement rejected the idea that art ought to be representational and instead trusted in abstraction’s ability to evoke feeling and meaning. To produce works that were visceral and immediate, they experimented with various techniques, such as dripping and splattering paint onto canvases.

The most well-known Abstract Expressionist painters include Franz Kline, Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock, and Willem de Kooning. Each artist approached abstraction in their own distinctive way. Examples include Pollock’s well-known drip paintings, which were made by pouring and drizzling paint onto canvases that were laid flat on the ground, and Rothko’s paintings, which were distinguished by vast, emotional colour fields.

The art world was greatly impacted by Abstract Expressionism, and its effects are still visible today. The movement cleared the path for more types of abstract art and questioned accepted ideas about what art was and could be. With their artwork, the Abstract Expressionists were able to express a variety of feelings and experiences, developing a fresh and fascinating visual vocabulary that continues to influence both artists and spectators.

1. Jackson Pollock

Abstract Expressionism artists

Born: 28 January 1912, Cody, Wyoming, United States

Died: 11 August 1956, Springs, New York, United States

Spouse: Lee Krasner (m. 1945–1956)

Periods: Abstract expressionism, Modern art, Action painting

  • Paul Jackson Pollock was an American painter who was a key artist of the movement of abstract expressionist.
  • The public was awed by His “drip technique” of pouring.
  • A quiet and volatile person, Pollock struggled with alcoholism throughout his entire life. After 1945, Pollock got married to his painter Lee Krasner, who became influential on his career as well as his legacy.
  • Between 1998 and 1999, his work was recognized by retrospectives of a large scale at MoMA and The Tate in London.
  • Paul Jackson Pollock was born in Cody, Wyoming, in 1912, as the youngest of five brothers.


2. Mark Rothko

Abstract Expressionism artists

Born: 25 September 1903, Daugavpils, Latvia

Died: 25 February 1970, New York, New York, United States

Periods: Abstract expressionism, Modern art, Color field

Spouse: Mary Alice Beistle (m. 1945–1970), Edith Sachar (m. 1932–1943)

  • Mark Rothko was an American abstract artist of Latvian Jewish descent.
  • He is most famous for his colourful field drawings, which depicted irregular and irregularly painted rectangles of colour.
  • While Rothko was not a devoted follower of any particular school, he was part of his involvement with the American Abstract Expressionist movement of contemporary art.
  • Following World War II, Rothko’s art was undergoing a transformational period in the 1940s, when he explored mythological themes as well as Surrealism to convey tragic events.
  • In the later part of his career, Rothko executed several canvases for three different murals.
  • While Rothko lived a modest life for the duration of his time, the resale value of his artworks soared over the following decades following his suicide in 1970.


3. Willem de Kooning

Abstract Expressionism artists

Born: 24 April 1904, Rotterdam, Netherlands

Died: 19 March 1997, East Hampton, New York, United States

On view: The Museum of Modern Art, MORE

Spouse: Elaine de Kooning (m. 1943–1989)

Periods: Abstract expressionism, Modern art

  • Willem de Kooning was an abstract expressionist artist from the Netherlands. The artist was raised in Rotterdam and relocated to America in 1926. The United States in 1926, becoming an American citizen in 1962.
  • Then, in 1943, he was married to artist Elaine Fried.
  • The parents of his father, Leendert de Kooning and Cornelia Nobel, divorced in 1907; de Kooning lived first with his father before moving in with his mother.
  • De Kooning began painting in his spare time, and in 1928, he joined the art colony in Woodstock, New York.
  • De Kooning joined the Artists Union in 1934 and, later in 1935, was employed in the Federal Art Project of the Works Progress Administration.


4. Franz Kline

Abstract Expressionism artists

Born: 23 May 1910, Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, United States

Died: 13 May 1962, New York, New York, United States

Nationality: American

Movies: Who Gets to Call It Art?

  • Franz Kline was an American artist from the United States. He was part of his time in the Abstract Expressionist movement of the 1940s and 1950s.
  • However, he did not have the same ideas for painting as others in the group.
  • Kline was born in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, a small coal mining community in the eastern part of Pennsylvania. At the age of seven, old, his father committed suicide himself.
  • His mother later married again and took the boy into Girard College.

Later, he taught at several institutions, including Black Mountain College in North Carolina.


5. Helen Frankenthaler

Abstract Expressionism artists

Born: 12 December 1928, Manhattan, New York, United States

Died: 27 December 2011, Darien, Connecticut, United States

Spouse: Stephen M. DuBrul Jr. (m. 1994–2011), Robert Motherwell (m. 1958–1971)

Influenced by: Jackson Pollock, Clement Greenberg, Hans Hofmann

  • Helen Frankenthaler was an American abstract expressionist artist. She was a significant influence on the development of postwar American painting.
  • Frankenthaler began to exhibit her large-scale abstract expressionist painting in galleries and museums of the present in the 1950s.
  • Helen Frankenthaler was born on December 12, 1928, in New York City. Her dad was Alfred Frankenthaler, a New York State Supreme Court judge.
  • The mother of her child, Martha (Lowenstein), was one of the families who emigrated from Germany to America. The United States shortly after she was born.
  • Frankenthaler attended his school, the Dalton School, under muralist Rufino Tamayo. He also studied at Bennington College in Vermont.


6. Lee Krasner

Abstract Expressionism artists

Born: 27 October 1908, Brooklyn, New York, United States

Died: 19 June 1984, New York, New York, United States

Spouse: Jackson Pollock (m. 1945–1956)

Periods: Abstract expressionism, Modern art

  • Lee Krasner was an American abstract expressionist artist with an emphasis on collage. She was the wife of Jackson Pollock.
  • Krasner is now recognized as a pivotal figure in abstraction who linked the early 20th-century art movement with the contemporary concepts of postwar America. Her works fetch high prices at auction.
  • From an early stage of her life, Krasner knew she wanted to make art a profession. Her professional career as an artist started when she was in her teens.
  • After graduation, she attended the Women’s Art School of Cooper Union with a grant.
  • Through going to a technical art institute, Krasner acquired thorough and extensive training in art, exemplified by her understanding of the techniques used by The Old Masters.


7. Jasper Johns

Abstract Expressionism artists

Born: 15 May 1930 (age 92 years), Augusta, Georgia, United States

Nationality: American

On view: San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, MORE

Periods: Pop art, Modern art, Abstract expressionism, Neo-Dada

  • Jasper Johns (born May 15 30th, 1930) is an American artist, sculptor and printmaker whose work is closely associated with abstract expressionists, Neo-Dada, and pop art.
  • Johns has received numerous awards throughout his career, including the award in 1990 of his National Medal of Arts in 1990, as well as receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom in the year 2011.
  • In 2007, he was appointed to the American Philosophical Society in 2007.
  • The birthplace of Jasper Johns was Augusta, Georgia. Jasper Johns spent his early years at Allendale, South Carolina, with his maternal grandparents following the wedding of his parents ended in failure.
  • Johns was a student for three terms at the University of South Carolina, between 1947 and 1948.


8. Barnett Newman

Abstract Expressionism artists

Born: 29 January 1905, New York, New York, United States

Died: 4 July 1970, New York, New York, United States

Spouse: Annalee Newman (m. 1936)

Parents: Abraham Newman, Anna Newman

  • Barnett Newman was an American artist from America. The artist is recognized as one of the most important artists of abstract expressionism and is considered to be one of the most important of colour field artists.
  • Barnett Newman was born in New York City, the son of Jewish immigrants from Poland.
  • Later, he earned a living as a writer, teacher and critic.
  • Through the 1940s, he painted in a surrealist style before coming up with his own style.
  • This is evident in the form of regions of color divided by narrow vertical lines also known as “zips”, as Newman called these.


9. Robert Rauschenberg

Abstract Expressionism artists

Born: 22 October 1925, Port Arthur, Texas, United States

Died: 12 May 2008, Captiva, Florida, United States

On view: San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, MORE

Spouse: Susan Weil (m. 1950–1953)

  • Robert Rauschenberg was an American artist, graphic artist, and painter, his early works predating the Pop Art movement.
  • Rauschenberg was a sculptor and painter. However, he also worked in printmaking, photography as well as performance.
  • Rauschenberg won numerous awards throughout his 60-year career as an artist.
  • At the age of 18, Rauschenberg was admitted to the University of Texas at Austin, where he was enrolled in pharmacology. However, he left shortly thereafter because of the difficulties of his coursework.
  • Rauschenberg later studied at The Kansas City Art Institute and the Academie Julian in Paris.


10. Cy Twombly

Abstract Expressionism artists

Born: 25 April 1928, Lexington, Virginia, United States

Died: 5 July 2011, Rome, Italy

Spouse: Baroness Tatiana Franchetti (m. 1959–2010)

Parents: Cy Twombly

Children: Cyrus Alessandro Twombly

  • Cy Twombly was an American artist, sculptor and photographer.
  • Twombly is believed to have influenced artists of the younger generation like Anselm Kiefer, Francesco Clemente, and Julian Schnabel.
  • His paintings and other works on paper were influenced by “romantic symbolism”, and the titles of his works can be read visually using shapes and patterns and even words.
  • Twombly’s artworks are part of the permanent collections of museums that exhibit modern art around the world which includes The Menil Collection in Houston.
  • At the age of 12 Twombly began taking private art lessons from the Catalan Modern master Pierre Daura.


11. Joan Mitchell

Born: 12 February 1925, Chicago, Illinois, United States

Died: 30 October 1992, American Hospital of Paris, Neuilly-sur-Seine, France

Spouse: Barney Rosset (m. 1949–1952)

  • Joan Mitchell was an American artist who specialized in printmaking and painting but also employed pastels as well as other work on paper.
  • She was a prominent part of The New York School of Artists during the 1950s.
  • Mitchell’s expressive style and the stylized brushwork were influenced the post-impressionist artists of the nineteenth century, especially Henri Matisse.
  • Mitchell was among the few female artists of her time who received the attention of critics and the public.
  • Her drawings, paintings and prints that are editioned can be found in the major collections and museums throughout the world.


12. Robert Motherwell

Abstract Expressionism artists

Born: 24 January 1915, Aberdeen, Washington, United States

Died: 16 July 1991, Provincetown, Massachusetts, United States

On view: The Museum of Modern Art, MORE

Spouse: Renate Motherwell (m. 1972–1991), Helen Frankenthaler (m. 1958–1971)

  • Robert Motherwell was an American abstract expressionist artist, printer, editor, and printmaker.
  • Robert Motherwell was born in Aberdeen, Washington on January 24, 1915.
  • Between 1932 and 1937, Motherwell was a student of painting at the California School of Fine Arts, San Francisco and received an undergraduate degree in philosophy from Stanford University.
  • The passion for the subject remained with Motherwell throughout his life. It became an important theme in his drawings and paintings later.
  • According to Motherwell his account, the main reason he attended Harvard was the fact that He wanted to be a painter, but his father advised him to go after a more secure job.
  • While at Harvard, Motherwell studied under Arthur Oncken Lovejoy and David White Prall.


13. Frank Stella

Abstract Expressionism artists

Born: 12 May 1936 (age 86 years), Malden, Massachusetts, United States

On view: San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, The Museum of Modern Art, Museum Folkwang, Chrysler Museum

Children: Patrick Stella, Peter Stella, Michael Stella, Rachel Stella

Periods: Contemporary art, Minimalism, Modern art,

  • Frank Philip Stella (born May 12 1936) is an American artist, sculptor, and printmaker who is renowned for his works in the fields of post-painterly abstraction and minimalism.
  • Frank Stella was born in Malden, Massachusetts to parents of Italian descent.
  • He was the son of a doctor while his mom was a housewife as well as an artist who went to fashion school and later started painting landscapes.
  • The artist is known for his abstract paintings that do not contain visual illusions or references to metaphysical or psychological aspects in the 20th century of painting.


14. Arshile Gorky

Abstract Expressionism artists

Born: 15 April 1904, Van vilayet

Died: 21 July 1948, Sherman, Connecticut, United States

Spouse: Agnes Magruder (m. 1941–1948)

Movies: Without Gorky

  • Arshile Gorky is an American-Armenian painter who was a major contribution to Abstract Expressionism. The artist lived the final decades of his career as an American citizen.
  • The loss and suffering Gorky suffered during the Armenian genocide played a significant role in Gorky’s growth in his career as an artist.
  • Gorky was born in the town of Khorgom (today’s Dilkaya), located on the shores of Lake Van in the Ottoman Empire[22 (modern-day Turkey).
  • While redefining his identity and rebranding himself, he altered his identity in the name to “Arshile Gorky”, claiming to be a Georgian noble.
  • At the age of 1923, Gorky signed up for the newly founded New England School of Art in Boston and eventually became an instructor part-time.


15. Roy Lichtenstein

Abstract Expressionism artists

Born: 27 October 1923, Manhattan, New York, United States

Died: 29 September 1997, NYU Langone Health, New York, United States

Full name: Roy Fox Lichtenstein

Periods: Pop art, Modern art, Abstract expressionism

  • Roy Fox Lichtenstein was an American pop artist.
  • He called pop art “not ‘American’ painting but actually industrial painting”.
  • His work was exhibited on the walls of the Leo-Castell Gallery, located in New York City.
  • Lichtenstein was born to a middle-class Jewish family from Germany within New York City.
  • The father of his son, Milton, who was an estate agent, and his maternal grandmother, Beatrice (Werner), was a homemaker.


16. Elaine de Kooning

Abstract Expressionism artists

Born: 12 March 1918, Brooklyn, New York, United States

Died: 1 February 1989, Southampton, New York, United States

Spouse: Willem de Kooning (m. 1943–1989)

Known for: Painting

  • Elaine de Kooning was an Abstract Expressionist and Figurative Expressionist artist in the post-war era.
  • Elaine was the oldest of four siblings; Marjorie (Luyckx), Conrad and Peter were her siblings.
  • She was a mother who, in spite of being described as less attentive and loving than her younger sister, was supportive of her son’s artistic pursuits.
  • Elaine’s mom began going with Elaine to museums around when she was five and taught her how to draw what she saw.
  • In the middle school, Elaine began drawing and selling pictures of children who attended her school.


17. Clyfford Still

Abstract Expressionism artists

Born: 30 November 1904, Grandin, North Dakota, United States

Died: 23 June 1980, Baltimore, Maryland, United States

Artworks: PH-164, PH-969, PH-436, 1953, PH-945, PH-247, PH-623, PH-77, PH-261, PP-241

Education: Spokane University

Known for: Painting

  • Clyfford Still was an American painter and one of the main names in the early generations of Abstract Expressionists.
  • In 1925, he travelled to New York, briefly studying at the Art Students League. He was a student at Spokane University from 1926 to 1927. He returned in 1931, receiving the award of a fellowship. He graduated in 1933.
  • In 1941, he was moved in 1941 to San Francisco Bay area, where He worked in various war-related industries and also pursued painting.
  • His first solo show was in the San Francisco Museum of Art (now San Francisco Museum of Modern Art) in 1943.
  • Mark Rothko, who still had a relationship with during his time in California in 1943 and met with Peggy Guggenheim, who gave an exhibition of his work in the gallery she owned, The Art of This Century Gallery in the early part of 1946.


18. Robert De Niro Sr.

Abstract Expressionism artists

Born: 3 May 1922, Syracuse, New York, United States

Died: 3 May 1993, New York, New York, United States

Artworks: Landscape with Houses, Studio Interior with Guitar Case, Nude With Leg Up

  • Robert De Niro was an American abstract expressionist painter. He was also the actor’s father. Robert De Niro.
  • Robert De Niro Sr was born in Syracuse.
  • Robert was the oldest of three kids; he, along with his siblings John and Joan, had their childhood in Syracuse.
  • Hofmann’s instruction in the field of Abstract Expressionism and Cubist formalism was a major influence on De Niro’s growth as an artist of mature age.
  • The couple moved into a huge airy loft in New York’s Greenwich Village, where they could paint.


19. Norman Lewis

Abstract Expressionism artists

Born: 23 July 1909, Harlem, New York, United States

Died: 27 August 1979, New York, New York, United States

Nationality: American

Known for: Painting

Periods: Abstract expressionism, Harlem Renaissance

  • Norman Wilfred Lewis was an American painter, scholar and teacher.
  • Norman Wilfred Lewis was born on July 23 1909, in the Harlem neighbourhood of New York City.
  • He had two brothers. Norman was the middle one and his oldest twin brother Saul Lewis became a violinist.
  • As a young man, the artist began to study art through self-education. He also accumulated some art books for sale.
  • A long-time resident of Harlem from the age of 20. He also travelled extensively.


20. Hans Hofmann

Abstract Expressionism artists

Born: 21 March 1880, Weissenburg in Bayern, Germany

Died: 17 February 1966, New York, New York, United States

Known for: Painting

Education: Académie Colarossi, Académie de la Grande Chaumiere

  • Hans Hofmann was a German-born American artist renowned for his work as an artist and educator.
  • His work spans two centuries and across two continents and is thought to have both predated and been influenced by Abstract Expressionism.
  • Hofmann’s work is distinguished by his rigorous concern for the unity of pictorial structures and illusionistic spatiality and the using bold colours to create expressive purposes.
  • Hofmann is also considered among the top art educators of the 20th century.
  • He created an art academy in Munich in 1915, which was based upon the concepts and works of Cezanne.


21. Antoni Tàpies

Abstract Expressionism artists

Born: 12 December 1923, Barcelona, Spain

Died: 6 February 2012, Barcelona, Spain

Spouse: Teresa Barba i Fàbregas (m. 1954–2012)

Children: Miquel Tàpies i Barba, Antoni Tàpies i Barba, Clara Tàpies i Barba, Miquel Tàpies Barba

  • Antoni Tapies was a Catalan Spanish artist, sculptor and art theorist who was among the top well-known European artists of his generation.
  • He was one of the most well-known European artists of his time.
  • He was the father of a lawyer as well as a Catalan nationalist who briefly served in his father in the Republican government.
  • The maternal grandparents also introduced him to the world via her active involvement in civil and political matters.


22. Philip Guston

Abstract Expressionism artists

Born: 27 June 1913, Montreal, Canada

Died: 7 June 1980, Woodstock, New York, United States

Spouse: Musa McKim (m. 1937)

Education: Otis College of Art and Design (1930–1930), Manual Arts Sr High School

Children: Musa Mayer

  • Philip Guston was a Canadian American painter, printmaker, draftsman, and muralist.
  • He often depicted racism as well as antisemitism, fascism, and antisemitic American identity, in particular, in his most comical and mocking works.
  • A key figure in late in the century of the New York School movement, that created New York as the new central point of art around the world.
  • It describes Guston’s KKK themes as an appropriate catalyst for the “reckoning” with cultural and institutional white supremacy. It says that’s why the show should be completed immediately.
  • In addition to his high school education, he received his one-year scholarship to The Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles.


23. Sam Francis

Abstract Expressionism artists

Born: 25 June 1923, San Mateo, California, United States

Died: 4 November 1994, Santa Monica, California, United States

Artworks: Around the Blues, Damn Braces, Big Orange

Periods: Abstract expressionism, Washington Color School, Post-painterly abstraction, Lyrical abstraction, Modern art

Children: Kayo Francis Malik

  • Samuel Lewis Francis was an American artist and printmaker.
  • Sam Francis was born in San Mateo, California.
  • Francis was a United States Air Force member during World War II.
  • The hospital he was in for several years and during his stay met with the artist David Park in 1945.
  • Francis was first attracted by abstract expressionists, such as Mark Rothko, Arshile Gorky and Clyfford Still.


24. Richard Diebenkorn

Abstract Expressionism artists

Born: 22 April 1922, Portland, Oregon, United States

Died: 30 March 1993, Berkeley, California, United States

Spouse: Phyllis Diebenkorn (m. ?–1993)

Influenced by: Henri Matisse, David Park, Willem de Kooning, Edward Hopper, Clyfford Still, Arshile Gorky

  • Richard Diebenkorn was an American artist and printmaker from America.
  • Early work by the artist is linked with abstract expressionism as well as an artistic movement known as the Bay Area Figurative Movement of the 1950s and 1960s.
  • Richard Clifford Diebenkorn Jr. was born on April 22 1922, located in Portland, Oregon.
  • Additionally, at Stanford Diebenkorn also met his former student and bride, Phyllis Antoinette Gilman. They were married in 1943.
  • In the beginning, United States’ involvement with World War II interrupted Diebenkorn’s studies at Stanford as Diebenkorn was unable to finish his studies at the time.


25. Adolph Gottlieb

Abstract Expressionism artists

Born: 14 March 1903, New York, New York, United States

Died: 4 March 1974, New York, New York, United States

Artworks: Pictograph, Blues, Vigil, The Seer, Crimson Spinning, Voyager’s Return, Blast, I, Sun Deck

Nationality: American

  • Adolph Gottlieb is an American abstract expressionist artist Printmaker, sculptor, and painter.
  • Adolph Gottlieb, part of the “first generation” of Abstract Expressionists, was born in New York in 1903 to Jewish parents.
  • He travelled in France as well as Germany for a whole year. He stayed in Paris for six months.
  • Between 1920 and 21, he attended the Art Students League of New York. After deciding to pursue a career in art, in the future, he quit high school at 17 and travelled to Europe on a merchant’s vessel.

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