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It is in this context and with these stakes in mind that can be situated as Kline’s revisiting of his breakthrough, which occurred alongside other contemporary attempts to come to terms with the significance of Kline’s achievement and with the particular trajectory of his development.How to explain the enormous stylistic difference between the two paintings of the ballet dancer Vaslav Nijinsky in the role of the puppet Petrushka that Franz Kline created in c.19 (figs.1 and 2)?
It is also the shapes of his forms, which are not spontaneous or curvilinear in the manner of previously existing gestural abstraction, including notably that of Pollock and de Kooning.
Indeed, Kline’s gestural abstraction tends towards geometric abstraction in the regularity and repetition of his forms and the rigour of his compositions, which look empty relative to the densely packed paintings of Pollock and de Kooning.
Kline’s 1950 painting came to epitomise his breakthrough and thus his artistic accomplishment and identity: it was prominently featured in Kline’s first solo exhibition at the Charles Egan Gallery in 1950, as well as in the , Kline’s breakthrough came under threat.
The remainder of this essay provides a revisionist account of Kline’s breakthrough, emphasising the related problems that Kline faced in 19: namely, those of artistic independence; expression of identity; technical and conceptual discovery; and membership of the movement of abstract expressionism.
Given the frequency of breakthroughs among artists in the during the late 1940s, they appeared to amount to more than disparate discoveries and increasingly gave the impression of a collective American artistic movement.
In 1959 the critic Irving Sandler could generalise that ‘The experience of breakthrough was a common one in the late Forties among a group of New York painters, who despite their objections to any labels, are called Abstract Expressionists or Action Painters.’5 In general, a breakthrough is both purely intellectual, or artistic, and necessarily social, requiring that it be recognised as such by a significant number of others.1960–1 (Tate T00926) brings the central problem in the interpretation of Franz Kline’s work into focus: in several senses, Kline’s ‘breakthrough’ – a term that will be problematised below – occurred belatedly.It was also paradoxical, in the sense that the discovery of his distinctive variety of gestural abstraction, in combination with his particular palette of black and white, post-dated the breakthroughs of Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning, as well as those of Mark Rothko and Barnett Newman.Fundamentally, the trope was a rhetorical dramatisation of one of modernism’s main imperatives: the rejection of tradition.In the specific context of abstract expressionism, a breakthrough entailed a move away from figuration towards abstraction and, most particularly, from the European tradition of painting towards a unique personal style.Kline’s artistic discovery, and its public debut in his one-man show at the Charles Egan Gallery, New York, in late 1950, thus took place after the breakthroughs of others and came in their wake and model.Additionally, Kline’s combined breakthrough style and palette only became identifiable as uniquely important and uniquely his own after he reaffirmed it a decade later in his reversion to black and white in works like , and after his death in 1962 precluded the possibility of another, equivalent breakthrough.Thus, while Kline’s ‘breakthrough’ refers to an event from the late 1940s, the specific description that we have inherited was created and achieved currency in the early 1960s.Since this period, Kline’s artistic accomplishment has been defined through this dramatic narrative account of his breakthrough, which is why it is so important to any study of Kline’s work.For instance, the forms in (fig.4) can be seen as a series of increasingly small, concentric, vertically oriented rectangles, which stand above a horizontally oriented rectangle.What differentiates Kline’s gestural abstraction from historic geometric abstraction is that the logic that links these disparate forms is potentially representational.