Modern Abstract Art

Modern Abstract Paintings by Ad Reinhardt
Blue Paintings by Ad Reinhardt

For hundreds of years, artists strictly painted representational images. In other words, they painted pictures of things. Whether it was a picture of some fruit on a table, a portrait of somebody’s mother, or an image of a landscape, artists typically worked from real life. Toward the beginning of the 1900’s, however, artists started painting abstract images. Instead of painting from life, they began to make paintings that didn’t refer to the real world. They made these paintings purely to experiment colors, textures, and shapes. Many abstract paintings are very beautiful and make fantastic wall decor.

Dodie Sy

Dodie Sy

With the Ink of a Memory by Dodie Sy

Dodie Sy is a contemporary painter who’s taking the modernist tradition into new, exciting directions.

His washy dreamscape paintings, rendered in a range of pinks, blues, and grays appear to be inspired by modernist champions like Frankenthaler and Morris Louis.

Sy’s paintings are created with watered-down oils that he slathers across the canvas in large swatches. The artist allows the hues to run into one another, resulting in fields of color that suggest real and imagined landscapes.

Dodie Sy Website

Abstract painting has a long and complex history. It appeared for the first time around the turn of the 20th century, shortly after the invention of photography. Before that, painting was the primary form of representation. People got a glimpse of what the world was like by looking at paintings. But, once photography was invented, artists no longer had the duty to product representations. Many painters believed that there was no reason for them to paint from real life when the camera could capture it much better. As a result, they started experimenting with paint techniques. Instead of trying to depict life the way it looked, they tried to use paint to represent the “feeling” or “essence” of things. This is why abstract paintings are much more expressive than the paintings that came before them. There have been many important abstract artists throughout history. Here are a few of our favorites.

Helen Frankenthaler Mountains and Sea
Mountains and Sea by Helen Frankenthaler

Helen Frankenthaler

Helen Frankenthaler was a standout star among the “Abstract Expressionists”, a group of painters known for making abstract paintings during the midcentury period. Like many of her contemporaries, Frankenthaler drew inspiration from the natural world. We see a good example here in her painting “Mountains and Sea”.

Helen Frankenthaler at the National Gallery of Art

Untitled 1960 Cy Twombly
Untitled by Cy Twombly

Cy Twombly

Another well-known Abstract Expressionist, Cy Twombly created abstract paintings using a variety of different mediums. This untitled painting, for example, incorporates paint, oil stick, and graphite on canvas. Twombly was known for incorporating illegible messages and fragments of words into his paintings. Oftentimes, a good portion of the canvas remains bare.

Cy Twombly at The Menil Collection, Houston

Stanley Whitney Tango Abstract Painting
Tango by Stanley Whtiney

Stanley Whitney

Active since the 1960s, Stanley Whitney is an abstract painter living in New York City. His paintings are the result of a deep investigation into colors and shapes. They’re often inspired by jazz and African music. While the grid composition of Whitney’s paintings may seem simple, these paintings often take him many years. If you look really closely, you can see the layers of color built up on top of one another.

Stanley Whitney

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