Glossary

What is allover painting?

Allover painting refers to a specific style of abstract art characterized by a composition that lacks a central focal point or any discernible hierarchy of forms and colors. The whole surface of the canvas or support is covered with paint, patterns, or markings with this approach, producing a feeling of visual unity and a balanced distribution of components.


Clement Greenberg, an American art critic, popularised the phrase "allover painting" in the 1940s to characterise the work of abstract expressionist artists, notably those involved with the Colour Field painting movement. 

Key Characteristics of Allover Painting:


Uniform Distribution: In allover painting, the composition is uniformly distributed across the entire surface of the artwork, creating a sense of continuity and avoiding any centralized focus. This uniformity allows viewers to perceive the work as a cohesive whole, rather than being drawn to specific areas.


Emphasis on Surface and Materiality: Allover painting highlights the materiality of the paint and the surface of the canvas. Artists frequently employ numerous ways to apply paint to the canvas, such as pouring, staining, or splattering, resulting in a rich and textured surface.


Absence of Illusionistic Space: Unlike traditional representational art, allover painting does not attempt to create the illusion of depth or space. Instead, the emphasis is on the artwork's two-dimensional surface and the interaction of colours and forms.


Spontaneity and Gestural Mark-Making: Many allover paintings are characterized by gestural brushstrokes or spontaneous markings. Artists may use various tools, including brushes, palette knives, and even unconventional tools like sticks or drips, to create their distinctive marks.


Exploration of Color and Abstraction: Allover painting allows artists to explore the expressive potential of color and abstraction fully. The absence of representational subject matter allows for a greater emphasis on the emotional and symbolic impact of color and form.

Historical Context and Influence:

Allover painting gained prominence in the mid-20th century, primarily through the work of abstract expressionist artists in the United States. This movement marked a significant departure from the academic traditions of European art, emphasizing individual expression, spontaneity, and emotional intensity.


Allover painting not only influenced subsequent generations of abstract artists but also had a profound impact on the development of other art movements, such as Minimalism and Post-Painterly Abstraction.

Allover Painting in Contemporary Art:


Today, allover painting continues to be embraced by contemporary artists as they explore new ways of engaging with the canvas and its surface. 


Contemporary artists continue to push the boundaries of allover painting by incorporating various mediums, digital techniques, and three-dimensional elements. Some artists also combine allover painting with other art forms, such as sculpture, performance, and installation, to create truly immersive and multi-sensory experiences for viewers.


In conclusion, allover painting is a significant and influential style of abstract art that challenges conventional notions of composition and spatial hierarchy. As a dynamic and evolving tradition, allover painting continues to inspire artists and captivate viewers with its visual richness and immersive appeal.


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