Striving the exact opposite of depiction of actual reality, abstract art seems eccentric to many. Rejecting the traditional academic art the early abstract artists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries used color, form, shape, gestural mark, and line to create abstract art paintings, sculptures, and drawings that were purposely independent of identifiable objects, landscapes, and even people. Undoubtedly, abstraction gave artists a whole new level of freedom to experiment with art materials, processes, and methods using which these artists redefined the traditional meaning of art.

Evolution of abstract art paintings

Going hand-in-hand with the art movements that encouraged an escape from the conventional approaches, styles, processes, and ways of thinking imbibed from the Renaissance, Early Modern, and Victorian ages, the roots of abstract art can be easily traced in Post-Impressionism with its evolution coinciding the period of Modernism and Post-Modernism.

In fact, over the course of the globally influenced, and technologically advanced world of the 20th Century, several movements such as Surrealism, Dadaism, Cubism, and Fauvism, advocated and presented their own interpretations of abstract art. Characterized by forms that have been simplified or schematized and often seen as carrying a moral dimension, a number of artists including Pablo Picasso, Piet Mondrian, Wassily Kandinsky, Juan Gris, Barbara Hepworth, refined their own versions of abstraction and invented different styles reflecting their distinctive personalities.

Read on to get familiar with the different types of abstract art paintings— from expression to cubism and surrealism, fluid marbling to abstract organic style, and more, at the same time scrutinizing the famous artist paintings.

1. Drip and Splash

Drip paintings of American Abstract Expressionist Jackson Pollock brought in a new era of non-representational art. Detaching line from color, he brilliantly redefined the existing art styles and put forward new means to describe pictorial space. The splatter images and drip textures his abstract art created using his unique technique added an eclectic and energized feel to the canvas.

Categorized as gestural abstract art, in this style, the process of making the painting becomes more important with paint often being applied in unusual ways and the brushwork being very loose, and rapid. Abandoning the traditional idea of composition, Pollock avoided adding any points of emphasis or identifiable portions within the canvas thus creating an ‘all-over’ painting. However, the design elements seem to have a flow from left to right. Undoubtedly, a closer examination of his famous paintings such as Number One would help you note that the canvas was not just a picture but has an event painted on it. 

Today, his famous artist paintings are kept in the collections of the world’s most prestigious institutions including MoMA (the museum of modern art) in New York, Tate Gallery in London, National Gallery of Art in Washington.

2. Color Blocking

Through his renowned large-scale ‘Color Field’ paintings, American artist Mark Rothko took art to new levels of abstraction. Exploring the psychological and dramatic potential of block color, devoid of any human figure or landscape, his monumental canvases revolutionized the essence and design of abstract art paintings.

Though devoted to abstraction, Rothko derived significant inspiration from ancient, medieval, and Renaissance art and architecture. One of a kind his color blocking is considered a key contribution to American art during the late 1940s and early 1950s. His sensitive canvases featuring arrangements of rectangular panes in vivid and bold hues helped him to unlock the emotional power of colors.

To many, the first glance at his paintings may seem static but spending more time looking at them helps discover the image that is moving, pulsing, and radiating a mysterious light. Inviting the viewers on an unpredictable journey into an unknown dimension, over the years Rothko’s grandiose and pompous paintings have grabbed the attention of art lovers across the globe with many of the famous artist paintings fetching record-breaking prices at prominent contemporary art evening sales/auctions such as his Orange, Red, Yellow, 1961 sold for an exorbitant price of $87 million dollars.

Currently, his works can be seen at the Guggenheim in New York City with his Untitled, National Gallery of Art in Washington DC, at the MOMA in New York City, at the Whitney in New York City, the Menil Collection in Houston Texas, the MOCA (Museum of Contemporary Art) in Los Angeles.

3. Marbling

With its first known example dating to the early 12th century, the ancient art of Japanese marbling called Suminagashi is arguably one of the earliest forms of abstract art.

Literally meaning ‘ink-floating’ this art involves the marbling of an absorbent surface such as plain paper, fabric with colored ink and water or any viscous solution. The results of this abstract art style comprising dense patterns of several colors are ethereally beautiful and colorful. What is even more interesting is the fact that each piece created is unique and cannot be replicated.

Allowing total control over the abstract design’s composition, this technique also gives artists the joy of playing around with the spontaneous flow of the colors on the water. Indeed the process is as mesmerizing as the finished artwork itself.

Originally, Sumi-e inks were originally used in the technique. However, many contemporary artists use both traditional inks and heavily watered down acrylic paints to create abstract art paintings using this technique.

4. Cubism

Rejecting the traditional techniques of linear perspective, modeling, and chiaroscuro at the beginning of the 20th Century, artists Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque attempted to emphasize the flat, two-dimensional aspects of the picture plane. Favoring right-angle, straight-line construction, and monochromatic color scheme, this style endeavors to represent all possible viewpoints of the subject all at once, hence the result is an abstract art style (Cubism) that employs loosely-identifiable subjects appearing usually fragmented and geometrical.

This style of abstract art paintings was further developed by Russian painter Wassily Kandinsky. Comprising non-naturalistic imagery typically geometrical shapes of circles, triangles, etc., Kandinsky’s paintings absolutely had no reference to, or association with, the natural world. Owing to this, he is considered by many art critics as one of the first creators of pure abstraction in modern painting.

5. Line Art

Combining simple line drawings and paintings with psychedelic surrealism subject matter, Spanish artist Joan Miro developed a new style of abstract art paintings that finds beauty in its simplicity. As the majority of his work was influenced by the printing process of lithography, it contributed to the graphic feel of his art.

The use of abstract line art employing simple continuous lines to create forms and shapes to create a Surrealist fantasy was distinctive of Miró’s work. In today's time, Miro’s style of abstract art is popular for its simplicity and is often used by several designers for creating icons and logos as well as to communicate concepts.

6. Memphis

An art movement initiated by a group of skilled Italian designers, architects, and artists in 1981 resulted in the eclectic Memphis style. Emphasizing geometry, bold color, and pattern, it touches on a range of art styles from Art Deco to Kitsch.

Though snubbed by critics as being poor in taste, many love Memphis’ and find it as something fun with experimental energy.

7. Abstract Organic

Reinterpreting the traditional art styles of the 1950s, prominent artists of that time such as Charles and Ray Eames advocated use of organic shapes, natural materials, textures, and colors. Thus, abstract organic art style came into existence with fluid, curving forms and muted mid-century colors as its hallmarks.

The easy elegance of this style has made it a favorite among art aficionados for decades. Creations of abstract organic art are currently housed at the most prestigious museums and galleries of the world.

8. Halftone

This style can be described as the dotted effect created through printing where images can be easily fragmented into a series of dots. This effect was brilliantly replicated by the artists of the popular Pop art movement in the 1960s and 1970s wherein artists such as Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein attempted to make their art resemble newspaper billboard ads.

Focussing on mass production, celebrity, and the rapidly expanding industries of advertising, TV, radio as well as print media, it shaped a completely new cultural identity of abstract art.

9. Surrealism

Though not strictly abstract, surrealism aims to represent a distorted version of reality by manipulating imagery of the real world. Influenced by the theories of psychoanalysis, several artists such as Salvador Dalí, Rene Magritte, and Frida Kahlo put forward a new style of abstract art paintings. Characterized by juxtaposing fantasy-like, quasi-naturalistic images together, their works sought to expand the creative potential of the mind.

Though later outmoded by abstract modernist art, famous artist paintings such as The Persistence of Memory, 1931 by Surrealist Salvador Dali continue to inspire artists and designers.

10. Abstract Relief and Sculpture

Though painting is considered the dominant media of abstract art, there have been many artists in the art world who have translated abstract concepts into 3D form in sculpture and relief. Abstract works of British sculptor Barbara Hepworth are just the perfect inspiration for the same.

Inspired by places, forces, and nature, her works primarily explored relationships, not merely between two forms presented next to each other, but also that existing between the human figure and the landscape, color, and texture, as well as between people at an individual and social level. Cast in metal, stone, and wood, her monumental abstract sculptures represent the pinnacle of the Modernist movement between the 1930s and 1960s.

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