The Abstract Expressionism Movement Cultural Studies Essay

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Arshile Gorky's Water of the Flowery Mill and Jackson Pollock's Autumn Rhythm were drawn in 1944 and 1950 respectively. This was a period when the art world was strongly dominated by the Abstract Expressionism movement, so it is natural that prominent artists of that era including Arshile Gorky and Jackson Pollock drew paintings influenced by this popular art movement. It is interesting to note that the two landmark paintings, Water of the Flowery Mill and Autumn Rhythm drawn by two artists under the influence of same art movement can differ so drastically from each other when it comes to the content and organization of the artwork. While Gorky uses action painting methodology to develop Autumn Rhythm using a mix of somber black white and beige colors, Pollock is more extravagant in his use of red, orange and blue colors to draw Water of the Flowery Mill using the more traditional canvas on aisle approach of painting, but then again when it comes to describing the motive behind drawing these paintings, both artists have reflected their inner feelings and desires through their respective artworks.

A detailed analysis of the two artwork keeping their focus, content, medium and methods will be carried out in the ensuing paragraphs.

Focus: Abstractionism

Arshile Gorky's oil painting, Water of the Flowery Mill, drawn in 1944 is considered to be a landmark painting depicting natural landscapes albeit in an entirely abstract manner (Rand, 1991). Similarly Jackson Pollock's Autumn Rhythm drawn in 1950 is a landmark painting in abstract art, the complex network of lines in white and beige colors overlay on the original black colored configuration resulting in the painting becoming more nonrepresentational, complex and homogenous (MetMuseum, 2000).

Organization and use of colors

Arshile Gorky's Water of the Flowery Mill and Jackson Pollock's Autumn Rhythm both differ in the manner colors are used. While Pollock uses complex layers of black, white and beige in Autumn Rhythm, Gorky has used brighter colors to fill in the biomorphic forms in his painting Water of the Flowery Mill (Strickland, 2007).

A closer examination of Pollock's work reveals that layers upon layers of beige and white were expertly embellished over and around the original application of the black color (Tinterow, Messinger, & Rosenthal, 2007). As a result of this careful application of lighter colors around a darker color, the original rhythm of black color is maintained even after being obscured by the lighter beige and white color application (Tinterow, Messinger, & Rosenthal, 2007).

The painting Water of the Flowery Mill true to the abstract style of Arshile Gorky consists of an ambiguous landscape comprised of biomorphic forms suggesting clouds, people, bridges and other natural forms (Tinterow, Messinger, & Rosenthal, 2007). These biomorphic forms are clearly outlined in the painting and are filled using glowing red, orange and blue colors (Strickland, 2007). Closer examination of artwork reveals a wonderful execution of liquid paint application over the plain surface of a white canvas (Rand, 1991). Shapes in Gorky's painting are drifting, cloud like and riotous when the paint is thinly applied; on instances when the paint application is dense the shapes are firmly bounded though still unidentifiable to the naïve eye (Rand, 1991).

Medium and dimensions

Arshile Gorky's Water of the Flowery Mill is approximately 107.3cm tall and 123.8 cm wide oil on canvas painting (MetMuseum, 2000) while Jackson Pollock's Autumn Rhythm is approximately 266.7cm tall and 525.8 cm wide enamel on canvas painting (MetMuseum, 2000).


Contrasting the two landmark paintings on the content front it becomes clear that while Arshile Gorky's Water of the Flowery Mill is clearly a landscape painting, the subject matter of Jackson Pollock's Autumn Rhythm on the other hand is seasonal imagery depicting autumn.

Arshile Gorky's landscape inspired Water of the Flowery Mill was produced at a relatively happier time of Gorky's life, at a time when his career was going well and he was living in serene and landscape rich environment of Connecticut and Virginia (MetMuseum, 2000). The images in the painting though not easy to decipher can reveal to the interested eye a specific setting including a bridge and a mill (MetMuseum, 2000). This painting was actually inspired by the relics of an old bridge and mill on the Housatonic River in Connecticut, a place near where Gorky lived (MetMuseum, 2000).

Autumn Rhythm is an exemplary master piece of Jackson Pollock that exemplifies a unique balance between accident and control (Duchen, 2002). The shapes in Autumn Rhythm are more open and swirling while colors and muted and less decorative giving the viewer an impression of windswept days and gusting leaves (Duchen, 2002). To an amateur person seeing the art work for the first time the painting may come across as a product of an accident where paint is thrown on the canvas resulting in the emergence of a pattern (Duchen, 2002). The reality however is much different; each and every stroke created by Pollock is the result of deep understanding and deliberate action (Mosby, 2012). A closer examination reveals a strangely beautiful pattern in the painting that reflects Pollock's inner world (Mosby, 2012). The main idea behind drawing Autumn Rhythm was to make the viewers look at their inner worlds by disconnecting them from their present world (Mosby, 2012).


Jackson Pollock used the radical new approach of paint handling called drip painting for creating Autumn Rhythm (Hale, 1957). He created his first painting using the drip painting method in 1947 and by 1950 with the creation of Autumn Rhythm Jackson Pollock's grip over drip painting method seems to be touching phenomenal new heights (MetMuseum, 2000). Autumn Rhythm differs from conventional paintings in two main ways because while drawing this picture Jackson Pollock laid the canvas on ground rather than mounting it on an easel secondly thinned paint was applied on canvas in the most unorthodox manner (Thaw, 1986). Pollock constantly moved around the canvas while painting, a sequence called action drawing (Fisher, 2001). He dripped, dribbled, poured and splattered the oil paint plus enamel and aluminum on the canvas using the most unconventional painting implements like knives, sticks and trowels (Thaw, 1986). The famous drip painting method of Jackson Pollock represents the ultimate rejection of traditional means of art (Thaw, 1986).

Arshile Gorky's favorite paint application method which can be observed in many of his painting including Water of the Flowery Mill was using paint thinned with the help of turpentine to create subtle variations in the final created form (Rand, 1991). Gorky had a familiar method of letting the paint run and drip around and under the biomorphic shapes and figures (Rand, 1991). The use of bold and rapidly applied brushwork is quite common in all of Gorky's paintings including Water of the Flowery Mill along with distorted landscapes and human figures that depict a nervous sense of energy, impulsiveness and accidental creation of forms and colors (Hayes, 2012). In reality there is nothing accidental in any of Arshile Gorky's work, all of his paintings were highly deliberate and planned and none of it was completely abstract (Hayes, 2012).

Art movement/ Style

Arshile Gorky's Water of the Flowery Mill and Jackson Pollock's Autumn Rhythm both were created in 1944 and 1950 respectively, in a period when the abstract expressionism movement was in full swing so naturally these two paintings were also drawn under the influence of this particular art movement. The artists including Arshile Gorky and Jackson Pollock following the abstract expressionist movement aimed to explore their inner life through art and the technique they carried out the paint application was rather unconventional (Paul, 2004). These artists believed in free application of paint with no special attention being paid to visual reality (Paul, 2004). Abstract expressionists placed the greatest degree of importance on process along with improvisation and spontaneity (Paul, 2004). Arshile Gorky and Jackson Pollock along with their fellow colleagues following the abstract expressionism movement sought to express through their art the feelings, desires, needs and impulses shared by all mankind (Paul, 2004).


Water of the Flowery Mill drawn by Arshile Gorky and Autumn Rhythm drawn by Jackson Pollock are both wonderful examples of abstract art. Drawn under the influence of Abstract Expressionism movement and staying true to the principles of this movement, these paintings reflect the individual psyches and hidden dilemmas of the two artists. Autumn Rhythm adheres strictly to the non-conformist views of the movement echoed by the way unconventional methods were used for drawing the painting. Water of the flowery mill though was far less unconventional than Autumn Rhythm it was nowhere less than it when it comes to the abstractionism depicted in the painting. For even today this illusive picture of an even more illusive artist has forced art lovers in general and abstract art lovers in particular to search for hidden clues in the painting.