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Abstract Expressionist Sculpture

Explore how sculptors took on the challenges of Abstract Expressionism


David Smith
(American, 1906–1965)

1951. Painted steel on cinder block base, 6' 7 1/2" x 8' 11 7/8" x 16 1/8" (202 x 274 x 41 cm), on cinder block base 17 1/2 x 16 3/4 x 15 1/4" (44.5 x 42.5 x 38.7 cm)

In Australia, David Smith combines metal scraps and agricultural tool parts to create an open, energetic composition of lines. Smith made primarily sculpture, but he was trained as a painter and worked in the same circles as many Abstract Expressionist painters. Like a two-dimensional painting, this work is best viewed from one side. Additionally, Smith relies on line to create what he called a “drawing in space.” He once said, “I do not recognize the limits where painting ends and sculpture begins.”1 Because of its title, Australia is often read as a kangaroo springing into action.

David Smith: Painter, Sculptor, Draftsman, ed. Edward F. Fry (Washington, DC: Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, 1982), 130.

One who applies paint to canvas, wood, paper, or another support to produce a picture.

A three-dimensional work of art made by a variety of means, including carving wood, chiseling stone, casting or welding metal, molding clay or wax, or assembling materials.

A work of art made from paint applied to canvas, wood, paper, or another support (noun).

A work of art made with a pencil, pen, crayon, charcoal, or other implements, often consisting of lines and marks (noun); the act of producing a picture with pencil, pen, crayon, charcoal, or other implements (verb, gerund).

A process of joining two pieces of metal together by heating the surfaces to the point of melting and then pressing them together.

The arrangement of the individual elements within a work of art so as to form a unified whole; also used to refer to a work of art, music, or literature, or its structure or organization.

The Art of Welding
Smith was the first well-known American artist to experiment with welding, an industrial technique that joins metal together. He first learned how to weld during summer breaks in college, when he worked at a car factory. However, it wasn’t until he saw the welded sculptures of Pablo Picasso and Julio González in the early 1930s that he was inspired to apply the process to his art.