Comparative Contrasts Abstract Expressionists

This paper will discuss, and compare three abstract expressionists, their artwork, their ideas, and their emotion involved in these works of art. They are primarily from the same time period. Robert

Motherwell (1915-1991), Milton Resnick (1917-2004), and Mark Rothko (1903-1970). All of the artists use deep, rich color to covey feeling or emotion to the viewer. The first abstract expressionist artist that I chose was Robert Motherwell (1915-1991), and his painting “Elegy to the Spanish Republic No.34 (1953-1954)” oil on canvas. “Robert Motherwell was born on January 24, 1915 in Aberdeen, Washington. He received his Bachelor of Arts degree in philosophy from Stanford University in 1937” (artinthepicture, 2008). In 1948 Robert Mother started on the Elegy theme, a series of over 150 images. This series would absorb his interests for the rest of his life. Elegy is defined by Webster’s dictionary as “a song or poem expressing sorrow or lamentation especially for one who is dead” (Webster’s, 2008). The “Elegy” series is about the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s, No. 34 specifically is about General Francisco Franco crushing the burgeoning democratic movement in Spain. In this painting Motherwell used simple contrasting colors, predominantly black, and white, but also subtle uses of red, yellow, and blue in the background. Motherwell simply explained the meaning of the black and white colors simply stating that black is to white as death is to life. He also said “he never considered his paintings to be abstract” (Sayer, 2007). The best-worded description of the painting is “simplistic death”. The long black irregular shapes seem to drop from above to invade and divide the white rectangular zones, in poetry of death. “Elegy to the Spanish Republic No. 34 stands as modern testimony to the rich legacy of some of the oldest tenets of the concept of style in western art” (Habel, Hiles, 2000).

The second abstract artist I chose was Milton Resnick (1917-2004), and his painting “U+Me (1995)”oil on canvas. Milton Resnick was born on January 7,1917 in Bratslav, Russia, and immigrated to the United States in 1922. “Milton Resnick was one of the last survivors from the New York School of painters, also known as the Abstract Expressionists”(oregonstate, 2006). “U+ME” is one of a series of 5 large oil paintings themed “Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden”. In this oil painting Milton Resnick uses a unique technique called scrumbling. Scrumbling is the technique of working one layer of oil paint over another of a different color with out entirely annihilating the preceding layer, or layers. Milton’s particular style of painting is done without any practice, a plan, or a preliminary drawing, its just done with a brush mark and a feeling of where he’s going (Sayer, 2007). Milton stated that “the feeling doesn’t have to be physical, but it has to be as if I came at you and you were frightened”(Sayer, 2007). A brief description of this painting would be that the painting resonate a sense of death approaching. “The background fields remain true to Resnick’s earlier styles, with horizon less expanses of browns, Prussian blues, and dusty yellows. The figures simply float over this like ghostly Apparitions, highlighted with shocks of impasto white” (Zissner, 2000). They seem to have very short arms, or maybe they’ve been violently cut off. “The tree is similarly stunted, and draws a similarity to a cross” (Sayer, 2007).

The last abstract artist that I chose was Mark Rothko (1903-1970), and his painting “Four Darks in Red (1958)” oil on canvas. “Mark Rothko was born in Daugavpils, Latvia (a part of Russia), and imagrated to the United States in 1914 “(guggenheimcollection, 2007). Mark Rothko stated, “he was only interested in expressing the basic human emotions in his paintings; tragedy, ecstasy, doom and so on” (Sayer, 2007). “His art is known for its subtle colors, firm structures, rich variations, and absence of explicit imagery” (MPG, 2004). Most viewers’ think of his art as rational, and opulent. This painting seems to convey to it viewers that the red and black emotions come at night, when you are alone and most vulnerable, black being the largest of the rectangles, with the misty red emerging at the bottom. Giving the impression that the emotions are solid, even tangible as though they are deeply saturated with heat. It’s the colors one would imagine a human heart to be. “Although many people seem to have great difficulty determining the vanishing point of this painting, it’s not hard to find if one draws lines through the tops and bottoms of the columns on the left” (MPG, 2008).

In comparing these three paintings, “Four Darks in Red (1958)” by Mark Rothko, “U+Me (1995)” by Milton Resnick, and “Elegy to the Spanish Republic No.34 (1953-1954)” by Robert Motherwell. These paintings have a lot of similarities. The first, and most the predominate similarity is that all of the before mentioned artists use a layering technique in these particular paintings. The most extensive of these paintings in using the laying technique was done by Milton Resnick, in “U+Me (1995)”. This painting is shown developing in “The World of Art, Fifth addition by Henry M. Sayer”. These three pictures give you a general, but a good idea on how this painting unfolded in its design, and creation. It’s a very unique view on how this painting started, you would have never thought that the painting would have been completed the way it was, but yet it was necessary to see it in this light to understand the depth of the work involved. Resnick believed “that it was important to be open to previously unthought-of possibilities in the act of painting and to that extent angst, or the discomfort of not knowing while painting was considered a virtue” (Manister, 2004).

Mark Rothko’s “Four Darks in Red” more simplistic in design than “U+Me”, but yet has a carefully modulated field of color that suggests to several of it viewers “dawn”, without a realistic image. This warm, but somewhat ominous painting suggests dark feelings. This painting is 102 by 116 inches. It can be viewed in the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City, New York.

From the simplest stick figures drawn in sand with a stick, or from the earliest man painting animals on cave walls, or carving images in wood, bone, or stone, people all around the world have responded to the world by creating images of some kind. The primary purpose of art, particularly in the past, was to suggest a sense of meaning, and express essential thoughts, or feelings like in abstract expressionism; some kind of enlightenment is what was crucial in every culture, by stunning images.

In identifying the subject material of any painting, or what feelings the artist was trying to express, you have to look at the artist’s intent, which are frequently associated with the social conditions, national issues, the burdens of the population, or even their own personal problems. To avoid judging art by our own personal experiences, and biased views, we have to learn the backgrounds surrounding the artist when their work was created.

Horrendous tragedies, life changing moments in life, religious experiences, or just pure mysticism, these are the types of things that are often reflected in these types works. Trends, and fads are lead by mass media, and most artists struggle to do anything to get this type of recognition, or exposure, but these three artists stand out from the crowd. Their diversity differentiates from the artists of their era, and even today. This diversity is characteristic of abstract expressionism, and each of their style reflects different types of feelings, and emotions. Some aspects of contemporary society will always analyze, these styles trying to rationalize them, but through their paintings, these artist express their ideas, their emotions, as well as some strange version of the reality that they, and only they may perceive, in a two dimensional visual form that’s poetic, and even hypnotic.

Some artists paint, sculpt, or even take photographs, but these visionaries strayed away from traditional forms, with which their viewers are generally familiar with, and strived to create a visual representation of a physical feeling, entirely through an abstract relationship. All of these paintings were created in different ways using slightly different techniques, with different colors, shapes, and they convey a different range of emotion, but all were created by the masters of the craft; “Abstract Expressionism”.

1) Style and abstraction by: Dorothy Metzger Habel, Ph.D.Timothy W. Hiles, Ph.D. Downloaded from website:

2) Robert Motherwell biography downloaded on February 1, 2008 from website

3) Definition of Elegy, Webster’s Online Dictionary downloaded on February 1, 2008 from website:

4) Robert Motherwell quote; Sayre, H.M., 2007 A World of Art (5th Ed.)

5) Milton Resnick Biography Oregon State University downloaded on February 1,2008 from website:

6) Milton Resnick quote; Sayre, H.M., 2007 A World of Art (5th Ed.) Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Education, Inc.

7) Milton Resnick description of U + ME Sayre, H.M., 2007 A World of Art (5th Ed.) Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Education, Inc.

8) Milton Resnick, U + ME by John Zissner downloaded on February 1, 2008 from website:

9) Mark Rothko Biography downloaded on February 1, 2008 from website:

10) Mark Rothko quote; Sayre, H.M., 2007 A World of Art (5th Ed.) Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Education, Inc.

11) Mark Rothko the early years downloaded on February 1, 2008 from website:

12) Mark Rothko modern art famous paintings downloaded on February 1, 2008 from website:

14) Sayre, Henry. (2007). A World of Art, Fifth Edition. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Education, Inc.

15) Milton Resnick: Dour? By Craig Manister, Downloaded on February 7, 2008 From website: