Socialist Worker

Abstract Expressionism—when New York was alive with promise

by Nick Grant
Issue No. 2524

Pollocks Number 1A, 1948

Pollock's Number 1A, 1948 (Pic: Sharon Mollerus)

The Royal Academy’s exhibition gives a glimpse of New York’s artistic scene in the aftermath of the Second World War.

For a brief time before McCarthyite witch hunts of the 1950s, the city was full of promise.

You could hear Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie forging bebop’s frenetic sound, Billie Holiday’s aching voice or watch Marlon Brando on stage.

The term “Abstract Expressionism” really refers to this specific period, not a particular artistic style.

Instead of painting picture-like images, these artists experimented with different techniques to make marks on canvass. But their approaches differed a lot.

Number 7, 1951

Number 7, 1951 (Pic: cliff_1066/flikr)


On show are Jackson Pollock’s two most significant paintings Mural (1943) and Blue Poles (1952). He created them on his studio floor using a dripping process.

Franz Kline’s images make you think of blurred photos taken at speed on New York’s streets. They were made using strong black and white swathes of house paint.

It’s also great to see Lee Krasner’s impressive works, but another key woman artist Helen Frankenthaler is under-represented.


Some critics deride the fact that the CIA used their work. Like the jazz records of Louis Armstrong and Dave Brubeck, their works were shipped to Eastern Europe as examples of Western “free expression”.

But that had nothing to do with why these lasting works were created. So enjoy this big show. Look without prejudice at the daring, delightful and vivid work on the walls.

Abstract Expressionism

Royal Academy of Arts, Burlington House, Piccadilly, London W1J 0BD.
Until 2 January. Tickets £17, under 16s go free

A Suffragette's song

The Crouch End Players’ new production tells the true story of Kitty Marion, a music hall performer and militant suffragette.

Marion left for the US after the First World War where she fought for women’s right to birth control.

This all woman play blends Kitty’s own words with popular Music Hall songs of the day.

A Suffragette’s Song is a powerful, musical illustration of how women in Britain changed their lives through struggle.

Written by Terry McGrath and performed by the Crouch End Players theatre company

The Supper Room, Hornsey Town Hall Arts Centre, London N8

19-22 October
Tickets £10
Go to to book

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