SAM Art: American Abstraction

Early in the 1940s, artists in New York began to develop an expressive, abstract style of painting that was a stark departure from previous ideas, both artistically and historically. Up until World War II, the center of artistic production in the West had been Paris, and artists from around Europe, the United States and South America had flocked to the French capital to study and to work. This changed profoundly in the 1940s, when artists in New York developed bold new practices.

Abstract painting dominated the artistic discourse beyond the 1940s, into the 1950s and early 1960s, but the concerns began to shift from the energy of the painted gesture to the flatness of the canvas. In this painting by Morris Louis, this is achieved by thinned paint that saturates the canvas and melds with the support.

Theta Gamma, 1960, Morris Louis (American, 1912-1962), acrylic resin on canvas, 101 3/4 x 130 in., Gift of Marcella Brenner Revocable Trust, 2011.28. © Seattle Art Museum all rights reserved. Currently on view in the Modern and Contemporary art galleries, third floor, SAM Downtown.