Abstract expressionism arose as a result of World War II. The violence, loss of human life,
the Holocaust, the dropping of the atomic bomb created emotions that found their way into
the art world. Abstract expressionism often utilizes the unrepresentational forms of the
abstract art movement and the emotionalism of expressionism. However, it is possible to
have representational objects in an abstract expressionist painting as it is the overall
emotion evoked which is the most important.
The influences on abstract expressionism are surrealism, primitive and Indian art, and
Chinese calligraphy. The artists of the movement were primarily European in origin.
American life was not seen as an influence for the emotions expressed on canvas because
the battlefields of the war were in Europe. However, New York was the main center for
artistic expressions following the war, and it was a haven for displaced European artists.
The New York School was the catalyst for the abstract expressionist movement. Its
members were William de Kooning, Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko. It was during the
1950s, amidst the hegemony of the American society, that abstract expressionism
surprisingly gained prominence. Many Americans saw the freedom from traditional
subjects and the emotional content as an example of American freedoms in the height of
the cold war.
The abstract expressionists can be divided into two categories--action painters and color
field painters. Action painters led by Jackson Pollock, "Jack the Dripper," utilized forceful
brushstrokes or threw paint on the canvas. The idea was to show the dynamism of the
painting and the intensity of the artist's emotions. Color field painters emerged from the
action painters to use washes of color. Usually these washes were made from watered-down
acrylic paint. Abstact expressionism eventually spun-off into Pop Art and Minimalism.
In Invisible Man, an example of abstract expressionism occurs in chapter 25, "...flaming
pistols" (535). Then the "block leaps alive" (536) with the force of an action painting. As
the chapter progresses, the color of night changes to blue and the action swirls around
Invisible Man fed by the emotions following Tod Clifton's death. The scene becomes a blur
of action as the fighting intensifies; this is not only a visual blur but an audio one as well.
Like many abstract expressionism works, this scene relies on largely non-representational
objects: the crowd, and a few representational figures, Invisible Man, Dupre, and Ras the
Destroyer. Ras the Destroyer in his lion skin with his spear is symbolic of many primitive
motifs and patterns used by abstract expressionists. However, it is most importantly the
high emotions of the crowds and the main characters that evoke an abstract expressionism