What is Expressionism?
Expressionism is a modern art movement that favours portraying subjective emotions over objective reality. Expressionist artists aim to depict the world as it feels, rather than how it looks.
What are the characteristics of Expressionism in art?
Expressionism is achieved through exaggerating and distorting the realities of colour, space and shape. Typically, Expressionist works employ elements of fantasy and have bold hues, sweeping brushwork and generously applied layers of paint. These effects can heighten a picture’s sense of drama.
When did Expressionism begin?
The term Expressionism can be applied to work from any era. The work of the Old Master painter El Greco (1541-1614), for example, can be described as Expressionistic because of the artist’s unconventional priority of colour over form.
Usually, however, the term Expressionistic refers to works made in the 20th century. Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890) and Edvard Munch (1863-1944) are considered two of the earliest Expressionist artists. They both employed impulsive, loose brushwork and vivid colours to convey a sense of anxiety in their work.
Expressionism’s popularity grew alongside other early 20th century modern art movements that searched for avant-garde ways to represent reality, including Futuruism, Cubism, Dadaism, Surrealism and Vorticism.
What does Expressionism usually refer to?
Today, the term Expressionism is most often associated with German art produced during the early part of the 1900s.
Two principal German Expressionist groups emerged; One was The Bridge (Die Brücke), founded in Dresden. Its members included Erich Heckel (1883-1970), Emil Nolde (1867-1956) and Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (1880-1938). The other was The Blue Rider (Der Blaue Reiter). Established in Munich, members included Franz Marc (1880-1916), Paul Klee (1879-1940) and Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944).
Kandinsky was one of the first truly abstract artists. He argued that images should arise from instinct and mysticism. By tapping into one’s own unconscious, he said, art could be freed from representation.
Members of both The Bridge and Blue Rider used gestural, and sometimes frenetic strokes, along with thick, impasto paint to express their emotions — often fear and disgust — on canvas.
They wanted to break free from academic tradition and took inspiration from Post-Impressionist painters like Henri Matisse (1869-1954) as well as non-European art, like wood carvings from Africa and Polynesia, which at the time was considered ‘primitive’.
The groups’ bohemian spirit, however, came to an end with the outbreak of World War I.
Are there other types of Expressionism?
Many of the 20th century’s greatest artists like Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), Alberto Giacometti (1901-1966) and Francis Bacon (1909-1992) can be called Expressionists because of the way they broke free from representational forms and colours in order to portray the ‘sense’ of a person, place or thing.
In the 1940s, a new branch of Expressionism called Abstract Expressionism emerged in New York City. Painters such as Jackson Pollock (1912-1956), Mark Rothko (1903-1970) and Willem de Kooning (1904-1997) began making monumental works that focused on spontaneity and improvisation.
Their work stood in contrast to the considered and reflective mark marking of their peers. Instead, they used highly abstract, dynamic brushwork to reflect their individual psyche.
In the late 1970s the German painter Georg Baselitz (b. 1938) revived Expressionism. It’s resurgence quickly spread internationally as a reaction to the sparseness of the dominant movements of Conceptualism and Minimalism.
This new, raw and tactile style of painting was branded Neo-Expressionism and adopted by artists like Frank Auerbach (b. 1931), Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988) and Philip Guston (1913-1980).
Who are today’s young Expressionists?
Many of the 21st century’s most important art movements employ a degree of Expressionism’s spontaneous, instinctive and highly emotional qualities.
Inspired by the work of Auerbach, The British artist Henry Hudson paints expressive, performative works that use elements like plaster and beeswax to enhance the sense of impasto in his paintings.
The American artist Nicolas Holiber similarly emphasises the importance of process and materiality in his portraits. Hovering between abstraction and representation, his work uses thick layers of paint, built up intuitively, to provide a sense of the sitter’s character.
As a movement that searches for ways to rejuvenate creativity, and that also deals with eternal topics, like sex, death and spirituality — which remain familiar today — the boundaries of Expressionism continue to be explored by each generation of artists.
Horizon Line Somewhere Over the Mediterranean Sea
salts, chalk with dry pigment in
polyvinyl acetate on aluminium board
98 cm x 80 cm