Term applied to new forms of abstract art developed by American painters in 1940s and 1950s, often characterized by gestural brush-strokes or mark-making, and the impression of spontaneity
The abstract expressionists were mostly based in New York City, and also became known as the New York school. The name evokes their aim to make art that while abstract was also expressive or emotional in its effect. They were inspired by the surrealist idea that art should come from the unconscious mind, and by the automatism of Joan Miró.
Within abstract expressionism were two broad groupings. These were the so-called action painters led by Jackson Pollock and Willem De Kooning, and the colour-field painters, notably Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman and Clyfford Still. The action painters worked in a spontaneous improvisatory manner often using large brushes to make sweeping gestural marks. Pollock famously placed his canvas on the ground and danced around it pouring paint direct from the can or trailing it from the brush or a stick. In this way they directly placed their inner impulses on the canvas. The colour field painters were deeply interested in religion and myth. They created simple compositions with large areas of a single colour intended to produce a contemplative or meditational response in the viewer.