The origin of abstract art is often dated to 1910 when Vassily Kandinsky painted the first non-figurative artwork in the history of modern art. His painting, bearing the inscription “abstract watercolor” on the back contained no evocation of the observed reality, launched one of the main artistic tendencies of the 20th century.
We propose here to discover abstract paintings of great artists who are still alive on each continent :
Abstract painting in Africa
Born in 1970 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Julie Mehretu is one of the most important and promising artists of her generation. After studying in Dakar, Senegal, she left her city and settled down in the United States where she still lives. Faced visually and physically with the megalopolis of its history, Julie Mehretu will use these great urban landscapes as a source of inspiration for her immense abstract canvases, filled with explosions of forms and colors. Julie Mehretu painted Retopistics: A Renegade Excavation in 2001. Her biggest canvas at the time (2,5m x 5,3m) is a visual explosion that subtly suggests the inequality of the relationship between the rich and the poor who are not able to appropriate public spaces in a similar way. Retopistics was sold for $ 4.6 million in 2013 at a Christie’s auction, placing Julie Mehretu among the top 10 most expensive living artists.
Retopistics: A Renegade Excavation, 2001
Abstract painting in North America
Born in 1930 in Nashville, Robert Ryman initially intended to become a jazz saxophonist. He moved to New York to try his luck and must quickly found odd jobs to survive. So it came that he become a museum keeper. It was during this experience that lasted 8 years that he was captivated by the acquisitions to the MoMA of abstract expressionist painters. He decided to start painting, and for the last fifty years he has worked on the same square format, variable in size, and uses a single color, white, to make many different paintings.
His work is identified with the movements of monochromatic works, minimalism and conceptual art. In 1980, Ryman creates Bridge, an oil painting on canvas with four painted metal fasteners and square bolts. His work was sold in 2015 at Christie’s for $ 20.6 million.
Abstract Painting in South America
Born in Caracas (Venezuela) in 1923, Carlos Cruz-Diez moved to and worked in Paris in 1960. He experimented and theorized enormously on the phenomenon of color in the field of art by developing in particular the perceptual universe of this last. Cruz-Diez understands color as an autonomous reality, evolving in real space and time, without past or future, into a perpetual present. In his works, color becomes a reality that can exist without recourse to a form or a support.
Physichromy No. 657, 1973
Abstract painting in Asia
Zhu Jinshi was born in Beijing in 1954 and produces abstract paintings whose surfaces are constructed of thick layers of oil paint recalling the style and techniques espoused by the German expressionists from which Zhu was deeply influenced during his years of life in Berlin. In his series entitled The Reality of Paint, Zhu Jinshi paints Amateur Chess Player in 2012.
Amateur Chess Player, 2012
Abstract painting in Europe
Born in Dresden in 1932, Gerhard Richter followed classical studies imposed by the standards of socialist realism, but then moved to the West for the love to abstract paintings. His rare singularity lays in practicing simultaneously figurative and abstract registers. Today he is one of the most famous German painters.
He painted Abstraktes Bild in 1986. High over 3m by 2.5m. This painting was built by Richter through the accumulation of paint, which was then removed with a piece of wood to produce a multi-layered image full of colors. Sold in 2015 for $ 46 million, Abstraktes Bild is described as the artist’s greatest abstract work. This sale gives Gerhard Richter the title of the most expensive European artist who is still alive.
Abstraktes Bild, 1986
Abstract painting in Oceania
John Olsen was born in 1928 in Newcastle, Australia. He moved to Bondi Beach with his family 7 years later where his fascination for the port of Sydney began. His studies led him to France, Spain and England and let him return to Australia in 1960 with the intention of representing the Australian culture through the landscapes of the interior lands. John Olsen has always claimed to have never painted an abstract painting of his life and defined his work as an exploration of landscapes. He remains nevertheless categorized as an abstract painter by the middle of art.