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The Processes and Materials of Abstract Expressionist Painting

Discover the innovative tecniques of Abstract Expressionist painters


Chief

Franz Kline
(American, 1910–1962)

1950. Oil on canvas, 58 3/8" x 6' 1 1/2" (148.3 x 186.7 cm)

Franz Kline began his career as a figurative painter, but in the late 1940s, he used a projector to enlarge one of his drawings of furniture onto the wall. Kline was intrigued by the resulting abstraction: “A four by five inch black drawing of a rocking chair … loomed in gigantic black strokes which eradicated any image, the strokes expanding as entities in themselves, unrelated to any entity but that of their own existence.” From this moment on, Kline would dedicate himself to creating large-scale, black-on-white abstract works. “I paint the white as well as the black,” he once said, “and the white is just as important.”1

The dynamic curves and slashes of Chief may seem spontaneous, but this painting, like many of his so-called action paintings, was likely carefully reproduced from a preliminary study. The painting’s title refers to the name of a train that passed through his childhood hometown in Pennsylvania. Many of Kline’s works, though non-representational, seem to suggest through their titles and through the stark, pulsing compositions the bridges, railroad tracks, and machinery of America. Kline’s material of choice—inexpensive, low-viscosity house paints—also points to the artist’s interest in industry and consumerism.

Franz Kline, quoted in John Elderfield, de Kooning: A Retrospective (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2011), 325.

The thickness of a liquid. In painting, the viscosity of oil paints is altered by adding a binder (such as linseed oil) or a solvent (such as turpentine).

Representing a form or figure in art that retains clear ties to the real world.

A term coined by art critic Harold Rosenberg in 1952 to describe the work of artists who painted with gestures that involved more than just the traditional use of the fingers and wrist to paint, including also the arm, shoulder, and even legs. In many of these paintings the movement that went into their making remains visible.

Multimedia

VIDEO: The Painting Techniques of Franz Kline: Chief

VIDEO: From the Curator: Franz Kline