Spontaneity and Subconsciousness: Exploring the Connections Between Surrealism and Abstract Expressionism


Spontaneity and Subconsciousness: Exploring the Connections Between Surrealism and Abstract Expressionism

As the center of the art world shifted from Paris to New York in the post-war years, the emerging New York School of artists denied the influence of Surrealism on their works, trying to make room for themselves by forming in opposition to the European Avant-Garde. However, the connections between the two are obvious; the idea of spontaneity and an interest in exploring subconsciousness play a major part in both movements. Even the legacies of these movements are intertwined, as many contemporary works continue to straddle the line between Surrealism and Abstract Expressionism.

Image 0Joanne Greenbaum, Untitled (Purple and Orange), 2007.

This work embraces the Surrealist idea of automatism, and is similar to automatic drawings done by André Masson. Greenbaum creates a chaotic labyrinth of overlapping and scribbled lines; the forms are vaguely architectural, but cannot be distinguished as specific objects from the known world. The numbers scattered throughout the drawing could either be evidence of the spontaneity of this work’s composition, or conversely they could illustrate the calculated construction behind the composition.

Image 1Anna Ostoya, Invitations No. 11, 2012.

Entirely composed of abstract lines and forms, this work also expresses a sense of darkness or foreboding. Using De Chirico-esque diagonals and shading, Ostoya is able to channel these psychological elements of Surrealism into the world of abstract art.

Image 2Jill Moser, Cycle X 3, 2013.

This series of works by Moser captures the essence of action painting. The print is constructed using thick, gestural strokes which overlap to create a swirling and energetic canvas. The bright yellow pops against the dark greys and blacks, adding a sense of dynamism and spontaneity that would make Pollock proud.

Image 3Malcolm Morely, Tankerton Bay, 2009.

This print combines elements of Surrealism and Expressionism into a Miro-esque collage of vaguely recognizable forms in a nonsensical setting. The gestural brushwork on the plant forms in the foreground demonstrate an interest in an expressionistic style.


Image 4Richard Anuszkiewicz, Triptych I,II, and III, 2003.

Anuszkiewicz embodies the legacy of the color field branch of Abstract Expressionism, embracing the psychological and emotional implications of color field painting, which connects his works to those of the Surrealists. These seemingly simple prints explore the idea of flatness and the emotional potential of color, as well as the tension created by overlapping color and forms.

Image 5Denise Kuperschmidt, Motif, 2012

Kuperschmidt pushes the aesthetic of color field painting towards minimalism, with her two-tone, geometric prints. While more minimal in terms of color, the work still explores the issues of flatness and spirituality which occupied the Abstract Expressionists.


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