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The Processes and Materials of Abstract Expressionist Painting

Discover the innovative tecniques of Abstract Expressionist painters


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 his drawing of a black rocking chair onto the wall. Intrigued by the way the image appeared abstract when it was enlarged, he decided to 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.

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

A representation of a person or thing in a work of art.

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).

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).

A combination of pigment, binder, and solvent (noun); the act of producing a picture using paint (verb, gerund).

The ratio between the size of an object and its model or representation, as in the scale of a map to the actual geography it represents.

The visual portrayal of someone or something.

An element or substance out of which something can be made or composed.

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

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.

A term generally used to describe art that is not representational or based on external reality or nature.

Art critic Harold Rosenberg coined the term “action painting” in 1952 to describe the work of artists who painted using bold gestures that engaged more of the body than traditional easel painting. Often the viewer can see broad brushstrokes, drips, splashes, or other evidence of the physical action that took place upon the canvas.


VIDEO: The Painting Techniques of Franz Kline: Chief

VIDEO: From the Curator: Franz Kline