5 Most Famous Abstract Artists and Their Paintings

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Abstract art, unlike representational art which portrays recognizable objects, uses color, shape, line, pattern, texture or form to create a composition which may exist with a degree of independence from visual references in the world.  There are three major types of abstract art – neoplasticism, cubism and abstract expressionism. Some famous abstract artists include Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque, who were most known for cubism. Piet Mondrian was also known for neoplasticism and Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollock were known for abstract expressionism. Here we explore the development of abstract art by studying the 5 most famous abstract artists and their works.

1. Wassily Kandinsky (1866 – 1944)

Considered by many as the “Father of Abstract Art”, Wassily Kandinsky was initially a teacher of law and economics but he gave up his promising career to pursue his interests in art. Kandinsky’s Untitled (First Abstract Watercolor) was painted in 1910, and is considered by art historians to be the first purely abstract painting.

Kandinsky Untitled
Wassily Kandinsky – Untitled (First Abstract Watercolor), 1910, Watercolor and Indian ink and pencil on paper, 19.5 × 25.5 in (49.6 × 64.8 cm), Paris, Centre Georges Pompidou

2. Jackson Pollock (1912 – 1956)

Jackson Pollock is one of the most famous American painters of all time. He played a major role in the rise of Abstract Expressionism, a post-war art movement which was wide accepted mainstream painting style in the 1950s. Pollock’s technique of pouring and dripping paint popularized the term action painting.

Jackson Pollock – Full Fathom Five, 1947. Oil on canvas with nails, tacks, buttons, key, coins, cigarettes, matches, etc., 50 7/8 x 30 1/8″ (129.2 x 76.5 cm),  © 2018 Pollock-Krasner Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

3. Piet Mondrian (1872 – 1944)

The Dutch painter Piet Mondrian  is one of the greatest artists of the 20th century and among the pioneers of 20th century abstract art. He began as a conventional artist, and experimented with Luminism and Cubism, until he reached a point where his artistic vocabulary was reduced to simple geometric elements. He was a contributor to the De Stijl art movement which advocated pure abstraction by a reduction to the essentials of form and color. Mondrian’s work had an enormous influence on 20th century art, influencing not only the course of abstract painting, but also fields not directly connected to painting, as design, architecture and fashion.

Piet Mondrian – Broadway Boogie Woogie, 1942-43. Oil on canvas, 50 in × 50 in (127 cm × 127 cm), Museum of Modern Art, New York

4. Kazimir Malevich (1878 – 1935)

Kazimir Malevich was a Russian painter known as a pioneer of geometric abstract art and the originator of the avant-garde Suprematist movement, which focused on basic geometric forms, such as squares, lines, and rectangles, and the use of limited range of colors. The most famous examples of his early Suprematist works, and arguably one of the most famous and influential works in the history of abstract art, are Black Square (1915) and White on White (1918).

Kazimir Malevich, Black Square
Kazimir Malevich – Black Square, 1915. Oil on linen canvas, 79.5×79.5cm, Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow

5. Georgia O’Keeffe (1887 – 1986)

Georgia O’Keeffe was an American artist best known for her paintings of enlarged close-up of flowers, New York skyscrapers, and New Mexico landscapes. She is not only the most famous female abstract artist but also one of the most influential figures of 20th century art. Among her awards and honors, O’Keeffe received the M. Carey Thomas Award at Bryn Mawr College in 1971, and an honorary degree from Harvard University two years later. In 1977, President Gerald Ford presented O’Keeffe with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Georgia O’Keeffe – Black Iris, 1926. Oil on canvas, 36 in × 29 7/8 in (91.4 cm × 75.9 cm), Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, NY