The Great American Artist

The earliest stylings of American artist were based primarily on English ideals. During the 19th century, American artists became well known. However, it was in the 20th century when the United States began its major influence on the international art world. The great American artist took on the worlds art stage with their talent, daring and innovation.

The first prominent art movement in the United States was Realism. These scenes depict contemporary social realities and the lives of ordinary people. Abstract Expressionism is the first American movement to specifically achieve international influence. It emphasized on conveying strong emotional or expressive content through abstraction. Following that movement was Pop Art. This is characterized by the use of recognizable imagery from popular cultures.  Advertisements, celebrities, and comic book characters are all apart of pop art. The U.S. also played a major role in modernism, Neo-Expressionism and Graffiti Art.

Here is a list of a few great American artists, and their amazing masterpieces.

Landscape – Thomas Cole

Thomas Cole - Great American Artist
Thomas Cole, The Return, 1837

Technically English, Thomas Cole is a great American artist. He is most known for his depictions of the American landscape. Originally an engraver, Cole was a self-taught painter. He relied on books and studied the works of other artists. However, this does not diminish his natural talent. While he is known for his landscapes, Cole also painted many allegorical works. Most famous among them was a five-part series The Course Empire.

Cole’s work went on to influence entire generations. He founded the Hudson River School and his work is currently on display at museums and galleries across America.

Abstract Expressionism – Jackson Pollock

Jackson Pollock, Great American Artist
Jackson Pollock, N17A, 1948

Skipping ahead a century after Thomas Coles’ depiction of the American frontier we have Jackson Pollock and abstract expressionism. Abstract expressionism is the first American art form to affect the international art stage. Pollock was a major figure in the Abstract Expressionism movement. Widely noticed for his technique of pouring or splashing liquid household paint onto a horizontal surface. Labeling this the ‘drip technique’, enabling him to view and paint his canvases from all angles. Action painting is another term assigned to Pollock. Using the force of his whole body to paint, often in a frenetic dancing style. Often dividing the critics: some praised the immediacy and fluency of the creation, while others derided the random effects. In 2016, Pollock’s painting titled Number 17A  generated attention for it US$200 million in a private purchase.

Realist – Edward Hopper

Chop Suey, Edward Hopper, Great American Artist
Edward Hopper, Chop Suey, 1929

Hopper is widely acknowledged as the most important realist painter of twentieth-century America. However, his vision of reality was a selective one. Consequently, reflecting his own temperament in the empty cityscapes, landscapes, and isolated figures. His work demonstrates that realism is not just a literal or photographic copying of what we see but it is also an interpretive rendering.  In 2018, Hoppers masterpiece ‘Chop Suey” amazed bidders. Believing the work would most likely make its way to sell for no less than $100 million. However, instantly recognizable, the piece was estimated to sell for $70 million. Going on to sell for drastically higher than the estimated price with copious amounts of fanfare.

Modernist – Georgia O’Keeffe

Georgia O'Keeffe, White Rose, Great American Artist
Georgia O’Keeffe, Abstraction White Rose, 1927

Peaking between the two World Wars, American Modernism is an artistic and cultural movement. It is a deliberate departure from tradition and use of innovative forms of expression. Georgia O’Keeffe became the leading figure in American Modernism. Combining abstraction and representation, she challenged the boundaries of artistic style with her paintings. Creating dramatically large, sensual close-ups of flowers – she essentially made them into abstract images. Notably, Georgia O’Keeffe was highly significant in influencing the gender balance in the artistic scene. Certainly, the Mother of American Modernism“, she is not only the most famous female American artist.  She also one of the most influential figures of 20th-century art.

Pop Art – Andy Warhol

Andy Warhol, Great American Artist
Andy Warhol, Campbell’s Soup Cans, 1962

No list of great American artist would be complete without mentioning the master of pop art – Andy Warhol. Warhol is the best known and most influential artist of the Pop Art movement.  So much so he is known as the “Pope of Pop”.  His style is neither classical or really painting combined with the commercial aspects of his paintings initially caused offense. Consequently, his style was an affront to the technique and philosophy of abstract expressionism. Undoubtedly, his works created an uproar in the American art world.  The resulting controversy made Warhol a household name. A prolific artist, he explored a wide variety of media including painting, silk screening, photography, film, and sculpture. His most famous paintings are silk screenings of typical American objects and celebrities.  

Graffiti – Jean-Michel Basquiat

Graffiti now commonly known as street art is a common practice in our cities. Tagging our urban landscapes with brightly colored buildings, across the city skyline. Heralding the charge for this movement was Jean-Michel Basquiat. Homeless and unemployed,  Basquiat began his career as a graffiti artist. The movement, reaching its peak in the U.S. in the late 1970s and early 1980s. In 1976, Together with his friend Al Diaz the duo spray-painted graffiti on buildings in Lower Manhattan and on the New York Transit Line. Using the pseudonym SAMO, an acronym for “Same Old Shit” the tag team are first generation street artist. However, in 1979, the team split and the project ended.

Jean Michel Basquiat, Great American Artist
Jean Michel Basquiat, Untitled, 1981

By the 1980s, Basquiat swiftly rose to become one of the most well-known artists in the United States. As a result, his art focused on “suggestive dichotomies”. Highlighting the gaping discrepancies between wealth versus poverty, integration versus segregation, and inner versus outer experience. Jean-Michel Basquiat is perhaps the most famous American artist of the Neo-expressionism movement. His work gave rise to an entire generation of street artists. Certainly, artists such as Banksy, Above, Keith Harring use themes inspired by Basquiat.

The influence of these artists and many more have inspired hundreds of artist. Consequently, creating a narrative through time with art. Innovation, daring, and cunning are just a few words to describe the great American artist. Certainly, their works reflect the greatest of Americana – bravery, unyielding courage, and passion.

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