Western Painting – The Movement in Western Art – Lyrical Abstraction


Lyrical Abstraction refers to Post-war Modernist term, often used interchangeably with Art Informel and Abstract Expressionism that grew in Europe, precisely in France, in 1945 and lasted up to around late 1957. In 1946, a French art critic Charles Estienne formally coined the term ‘Lyrical Abstraction.’ In America,this Abstraction was a movement described by Larry Aldrich in 1969. The name ‘Tachisme’ was also used to depict this movement.

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o European Lyrical Abstraction: When, post World War II, France was busy resurrecting its image

devastated due to collaboration and occupation, some art lovers decided to restore the position of Paris as art hub as well, as it was, until the World War. Bringing plan to action, several exhibitions were held in Paris. George Mathieu’s two exhibitions “Abstraction Lyrique” in Paris in 1947, and when Francis Picabia, Francis Stahly sculptor, Georges Mathieu, Michel TapiĆ©, and Camille Bryen, Wols, Hans Hartung, and Riopelle in 1948, delivered some remarkable trends on canvas. While George’s works clearly demarcated the gap separating ‘cold’ Geometric Abstraction from the ‘hot’ organic Lyrical type of Abstraction, Wols’ paintings had the influence of French Surrealists, such as the meticulous and prolific graphic work. Hartung’s paintings were focused on hatching, streaking, & brushing, and Hartung’s canvas was full of deletions. Riopelle’s paintings on the other hand, were freestyle, with no fixed concept or ideas.

o American Lyrical Abstraction: Tachisme marked the American landscape during 1960s-70s at New York City, Los Angeles, Washington, DC, and then Toronto and London. Spanning from Minimalism to Abstract Expressionism, Color Field Painting, and Tachisme, Lyrical Abstraction featured loose strokes, spontaneous expression, illusionist space, acrylic staining, process, occasional imagery, and other unique and novel painting techniques.This Form of Abstraction was all about boundless expressionism. Minimalists, Pop Artists, Formalists, and Geometric Abstractionists of 1960s were the key genre of the painters, who shifted to Lyrical Abstraction. Experimental, expressive, loose, pictorial, painterly, and abstraction were the key features of Tachisme.

The Correlation

Lyrical Abstraction resembles Abstract Expressionism and Color field painting, especially in the free usage of paints, exterior, and texture, resulting in similarly brushed, sprayed, stained, poured, splashed, and squeezed colors. Lyrical Abstraction was unique from the other painting styles of forties and fifties, because of its tilt towards composition and drama. Lyrical Abstraction is remarkably identified with compositional randomness, low key, peaceful compositional drama, and repetition.

Unfortunately, America accepted the term Tachisme quite late. However in 1989, the late Daniel Robbins, Union College Art History professor recognized the term and stressed that the term should be used, as it had a historical credibility.

Lyrical Abstractionists & Works: Some of the famous Lyrical Abstractionists were James Brooks, Helen Frankenthaler (Mountains and Sea – 1952), Albert Bitran (b. 1931), Arshile Gorky, Pat Lipsky (Spiked Red – 1970), Adolph Gottlieb, Robert Motherwell, John Seery (East – 1973), Kenzo Okada, Mark Rothko, Joan Mitchell, Norman Bluhm, John Levee, Ray Parker, Paul Jenkins, Cleve Gray, Jack Bush.