Research point: Abstract expressionists

Find out what you can about the Abstract expressionists and in particular the style of painting called Tachism or ‘Action Painting’…

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Abstract expressionists

Edited info from the Tate website with links to individual artist’s work on

Abstract expressionism was developed by American painters including Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko and Willem de Kooning in the 1940/50s. Their work gives an impression of spontaneity using gestural marks and brushstrokes. Also known as the New York school. Their aim was to make expressive or emotional as well as abstract art. They took inspiration from the surrealist idea that art should come from the unconscious mind.

Within abstract expressionism there were two broad groups:

  • the action painters including Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning who used expressive brush strokes as well as dribbling and spattering
  • painters who filled their canvases with abstract forms and fields of colour such as Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman and Clyfford Still.  They were deeply interested in religion and myth and created simple compositions with large areas of a single colour intended to produce a meditative response.


Tachism or Tachisme is  a term used to describe the non-geometric abstract art that developed in Europe (primarily France) in the 1940s and 1950s. It was characterised by spontaneous brushwork, drips and scribble-like marks and is the European equivalent to abstract expressionism in America. The name derives from the French word ‘tache’, meaning a stain or splash (e.g. of paint).

Developed by the young painters Hans Hartung, Gérard Schneider, and others, Tachism was part of a larger French postwar movement known as Art Informel, which abandoned geometric abstraction in favour of a more intuitive form of expression. Art Informel was inspired by the instinctive, personal approach of contemporary American Abstract Expressionism, of which Action painting was one aspect.

Like their American counterparts, the French-educated Tachists worked with a loaded brush, producing large works of sweeping brushstrokes and of drips, blots, stains, and splashes of colour. Their works are more elegant, often including graceful lines and blended, muted colours.

Tate Modern



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