The term action painters is applied to artists working from the 1940s until the early 1960s whose approach to painting emphasized the physical act of painting as an essential part of the finished work

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Introduction to action painters

Their process, involved splashing, using gestural brushstrokes and dripping paint onto canvas rather than carefully applying it. The term ‘action painting’ was coined by Harold Rosenberg in his groundbreaking articleThe American Action Painters published in ARTnews in December 1952.

Rosenberg was referring to artists such as Arshile Gorky, Franz Kline, Willem de Kooning, and Jackson Pollock.

  • Look at  action painting in Tate’s collection

Jackson Pollock in focus

Pollock is regarded as one of the most influential and provocative American artists of the twentieth century. Pollock famous painting process saw him drip paint on canvases resting on the studio floor.

Jackson Pollock, 'Summertime: Number 9A' 1948
Jackson Pollock
Summertime: Number 9A 1948
Oil, enamel and house paint on canvas
© Pollock - Krasner Foundation, Inc.

Jackson Pollock: Blind Spots
This exhibition which is on display at Tate Liverpool in 2015 takes visitors on a journey of Pollock’s career. Read the exhibition text and find which artworks were on display.

Jackson Pollock: 5 Things
Here are five things you might not have known about Pollock.

Jackson Pollock: Separating Man from Myth
This feature addresses and dispels some of the folklore that has grown up around this ground-breaking artist’s life and times.

Jackson Pollock’s Summertime: Number 9A
Read our blog post focusing on this iconic anstract expressionist artwork.

Modern Paint podcast – Jackson Pollock
Listen to conservation scientist Tom Learner explain the materials and processes Pollock applied to Summertime: Number 9A.

Arshile Gorky in focus

I was absolutely stunned by his painting, I had never seen painting like it…some of the paint stood two inches from the canvas.
Agnes ‘Mougouch’ Magruder

Gorky’s wife Agnes ‘Mougouch’ Magruder talks about the life and work of the extraordinary painter, Arshile Gorky in this TateShots video.

Arshile Gorky
This exhibition which was on display at Tate Modern in May 2010 celebrates the extraordinary life and work of Arshile Gorky. Read the room guide and see what artworks were on display.

Atom Egoyan on Arshile Gorky
Independent filmmaker Atom Egoyan talks about a number of his installations and short films that relate to Arshile Gorky’s life and artistic legacy.

Action painters for kids

Jackson Pollock, 'Yellow Islands' 1952
Jackson Pollock
Yellow Islands 1952
© The Pollock-Krasner Foundation ARS, NY and DACS, London 2014

This blog post and activity are a fun and simple way to introduce action painters to kids, whether in the classroom or at home.

Who is Jackson Pollock?
This Tate Kids blog post explains all whilst stating some pretty impressive facts. Did you know some of his paintings still have footprints on them where he stepped in the paint?

Jazzy drips
Get kids inspired to make their own drip paintings with this fun activity. 

Related glossary terms

Abstract expressionism, gestural, formlessness, automatism