Contemporary Abstract Artists to Discover

Work from abstract artist, Clyfford Still. Photo: Allbright-Knox

What do we mean when we talk about contemporary abstract artists? Contemporary art is the art that is made today, or while the artist producing the art is relevant.

However, like all things in the art world, all is not what it seems, nothing is as clear-cut as one would hope. In its most basic sense, the term contemporary art refers to painting, sculpture, photography, installation and visual art produced from 1945 onwards and after the period known as modernism. 

Just to add to the mix, an abstract artist is an artist who creates the image away from any literal, representational reference points or head on interpretations. Let’s look at some fantastic abstract artists that have changed the way we look at the world.

Tracey Rose

Rose was born in Durban in South Africa in 1974 during the Apartheid regime, Rose remains in South Africa, and her art is a result of growing up against the backdrop of oppression. 

Amy Sillman

Sillman is an artist whose aim is to redefine contemporary painting; converting the medium into drawing, interactive installations, and video. Sillman is influenced by politics, particularly the feminist movement, and abstract expressionism. 

However, she states quite clearly she is not an abstract artist but a contemporary artist and a place-holder for feminist critique, incorporating visual jokes, humour and political comment into her work. Just because Silliman says so doesn’t make it accurate – she deserves her place in this listing.

Jackson Pollock

Pollock is most famous for his drip paintings. Heavily influenced by Picasso and Joan Miro, an alcoholic and depressive character – how death in 1954 makes his entry four years too early to be a contemporary abstract artist but he is included as a founder member of the movement.

Rashid Johnson

Born in Chicago in 1977, Johnson is famous for the exhibition ‘Anxious Man 2015’, and the ‘Anxious Audience’ in 2017 along with ‘The Hikers’ mixed media presentation about the representation of the black body and how others see it and following on with the theme of anxiety.

An advocate of post-black culture, a term that refers to art in which race and racism are prominent but where the importance of the interaction of the two diminishes – Johnson is an abstract artist whose message is loud and clear and not open to interpretation.

Jean-Michel Basquiat

Born in 1960, Basquiat is the most famous contemporary abstract artist famous for street art and is the founder of street graffiti as an art form. 

Basquiat’s art focused on contrasts commenting on topics such as integration versus segregation, and wealth versus poverty; using poetry, drawing, painting and image in social commentary as a black person in his community at the time.

Yayoi Kusama 

The polka dot princess, now aged 90, Kusama was born to paint, her early works reveal what was to become an enduring fascination with both natural forms and polka dots. 

The dots appeared to her in a vision that changed her life – suffering from deteriorating mental health, Kusama lives in an institution in Japan where the doctors are interested in art therapy. From this secure environment, she creates and is creative – an orderly contemporary abstract artist.

Scott Eaton

Born 1973, in Washington Eaton considers himself an artist, animator, designer and draughtsman. Classically trained in Florence, Eaton has collaborated with Jeff Koons and Mark Wallinger and worked with Disney and Pixar as an animator.

Eaton’s is current – old meets new in his “Fall Of The Damned”, which uses Rubens’s 1620 of the same name through a thousand hand-drawn figures, tumbling into hell, whose outlines are digitally filled in by an AI computer program.

Jeff Koons

Koons is probably the most well known contemporary artist hovering on the borders of abstract. Not as conceptual an artist as we know it or like to think of it.

Koons divides critics; some consider his work as pioneering and of significant importance. At the same time, others dismiss his work as crass and based on cynical self-merchandising. Whatever you think about Koons he thinks a lot more and so does his bank balance.

Still is an American painter, and one of the leading figures in the first generation of abstract artists who developed a new, powerful approach to painting in the years immediately following World War II and continued to paint in that manner until he died in 1980.

Clyfford Still 

Clyfford Still is the grandfather of the movement. By using the painting technique called Impasto, the work has texture; the paint effects appear to be lifting out of the canvas creating life and activity.

The extensive works recall nature and earthly phenomena, rocks, caves, caverns, foliage, seen both in daylight and night. Still is said to be an inspiration to Mark Rothko and Barnett Newman.

As with everything in art, it’s subjective and personal, relying on the viewer to react and have an opinion, just as my view of contemporary abstract artists will not be yours. Ina-Contemporary art welcomes the discussion; your thoughts won’t change mine, but at least you have an opinion on what is relevant and what is not – maybe?

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