Famous Abstract Artists

For this edition of our AIA favorites series, we look at the 10 most famous abstract artists. The famous abstract artists of the mid 1900s emphasized color and structure without depicting natural forms or models. In abstract painting, artwork becomes an autonomous reality, and a connection to the natural world is abandoned for a visual language of form that uses colors and lines to create compositions which attempts to express an inner reality. The abstract movement began in the U.S when many of the most famous abstract artists migrated there around the time of WWII.

So who was the most famous of the famous abstract artists? Well, have a look at our list, and let us know what you think!


1.Number one on our list of famous abstract artists, Jackson Pollock

He takes the top spot for not only for his revolutionary approach to art making, but also for a life marked by excesses, and a dramatic death in a car accident while at the height of his career. Jackson Pollock began making money as an artist when he was hired by the Works Progress Administration as assistant muralist. In 1936 he studied with David Alfaro Siqueiros and was able to experiment with different techniques such as airbrushing, paint guns, and different types of paints (synthetic and industrial). In 1938 Pollock began the first of many psychiatric treatments to try to overcome his alcoholism. The Jungian analyst who treated him used his drawings to help facilitate the therapeutic process. Like Picasso, Pollock obsessively explored the subconscious in his work.


2.Williem De Kooning takes the second spot

De Kooning along with Jackson Pollock and Franz Kline are generally considered the most famous abstract artists. De Kooning was born in Europe and moved to the United States in the 1920’s where he lived for the rest of his life. In 1953, he began his series of paintings known as “Woman” — a theme that would be a constant for the painter. There’s been many attempts to explain the Women series — some see it as a misogynistic view of women, some as a representation of his mother, and some as De Kooning’s fear of women. Kooning lived a long life and continued to paint even after he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s — the work form that period is considered some of his best.


3.Number three of the most famous abstract artists is Franz Kline

Kline was born in a small town in Pennsylvania, and later studied art in Philadelphia, Boston and London, before eventually moving to New York. At the beginning of Kline’s career he painted figures, street scenes, and portraits. He was very successful and was even commissioned to decorate the Bleecker Street Tavern in 1940. In the 1950s Kline abandoned using figures. He began to use black enamel industrial paint and brushstrokes which created a sense of  movement. Kline then focuses exclusively on the relationship between the two colors, black and white. Kline was at the height of his career in the late fifties, when he decided to reintroduce color back into his paintings. But he soon became ill and died shortly later (1962).

Franz Kline (American, 1910–1962)  Painting Number 2

4.Mark Rothko takes our fourth spot of famous abstract artists

He was born in Russia and emigrated to Oregon in 1910. In the thirties, his painting were dominated by a kind of expressionist figuration. But by 1950, Rothko had abandoned figures for abstraction. He used large canvases, broad fields of color, and rectangular shapes on monochromatic backgrounds. Expressionism and Surrealism are both a part of Rothko’s Colour-Field Paintings. Over his career he moved from a surreal form of abstract expressionism into one with more basic shapes and arrangements, meant to induce states of contemplation in the viewer.

Mark Rothko

5.Number five spot goes to Joan Mitchell

Her work is an attempt to link art and poetry (she was very inspired by Dylan Thomas). During her youth she traveled to Europe and Mexico, before finally settling in New York. In the beginning of the 1950s, Mitchell met Willem de Kooning and Franz Kline, already famous abstract artists, and after a series of successful solo exhibitions, Mitchell joined them as one of the leaders of Abstract Expressionism. Mitchell is known for her unique decorative drips, which creates a pleasant contrast to the brushstrokes. Mitchell tried to harness the potential of abstract artist to communicate ideas poetically, with sublime moments and emotions.


6.Number six of the famous abstract artists, Kenneth Noland

Born in North Carolina, in 1924, Kenneth Noland is one of the founders of the Color Field movement. He often did large paintings with simple geometric shapes and planes, using vibrant colors. Around 1960, the time when Noland begins to use “shaped canvases”, his paintings seemingly were able to achieve a combining of figure and background and form and content, while at the same time highlighting the relationship between of different colors.

 kenneth noland

7.Seven of the Famous Abstract Artists, Hans Hofmann

The German painter and professor was born in 1880. He went to art school in Munich and Paris, where he was influenced by Fauvism, Cubism and German Expressionism. In 1932, he emigrated to the United States where he opened a school in New York. During his teaching years many abstract expressionist painters took his classes. Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko were among the famous abstract artists who were his students. In 1958 Hofmann left teaching to devote himself entirely to painting. Hofmann was greatly influenced by the abstract expressionism movement. His forms and colors express a sense of joy which gets conveyed to the viewer.

hans hofmann

8.Eighth on our list of famous abstract artists, Wassily Kandinsky

Russian-born and one of the pioneers of abstract art in the twentieth century, he took music and drawing lessons before going to the University of Moscow to study law and economics. In 1895 he visited an exhibition of French Impressionism and was fascinated by a book featuring the work of Claude Monet. A year later Kandinsky decided to devote himself entirely to painting. He went to Munich, then an artistic hotspot, and studied at the school of painter, Anton Azbé and later at the Akademie der Künste Bildenden. In 1901 he participated in the founding of Phalanx, a group who organized Abstract exhibitions and formed an art school.


9.The number nine famous abstract artist is Helen Frankenthaler

Helen Frankenthaler belongs to the second wave of abstract artists. Though influenced by Jason Pollock and Willem de Kooning, the intensity of Pollock is very different from the lighter paintings of Frankenthaler. Her most famous abstract painting is Mountains and Sea — where the lightness of texture and of the colors almost make the painting look like it was done with watercolors. Though the mountains and the sea are not seen, their presence is still perceived.

Helen Frankenthaler

10.Our final spot on famous abstract artists list goes to Robert Motherwell

Born on January 24, 1915, in the city of Aberdeen (Washington), Motherwell spent his childhood and youth in California, where he received a well rounded education (a doctorate in philosophy from Stanford University). His first solo exhibition was held in Paris in 1939. Motherwell is known for creating a graceful sense of dynamism, by combining vivid brush strokes with a very even sense of proportion.

Robert Motherwell



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