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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 primarily made sculpture, but he was trained as a painter and worked in the same circles as many of the Abstract Expressionists. 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 often has been 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 method with which an artist, writer, performer, athlete, or other producer employs technical skills or materials to achieve a finished product or endeavor.

A long mark or stroke.

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 dominant artistic movement in the 1940s and 1950s, Abstract Expressionism was the first to place New York City at the forefront of international modern art. The associated artists developed greatly varying stylistic approaches, but shared a commitment to an abstract art that powerfully expresses personal convictions and profound human values. They championed bold, gestural abstraction in all mediums, particularly large painted canvases.

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.