The British response to abstract expressionism of the USA c. 1950-1963
Abstract Expressionism was arguably the most important art movement after the Second World War and it has in many ways influenced all subsequent art movements in the West. This thesis investigates the presence of Abstract Expressionism in Britain and responses to it in the 1950s and early 1960s. Abstract Expressionism was presented to the British public through literature and exhibitions by individual Americans and by American institutions after 1947, but it was not until 1956 that Abstract Expressionist paintings became accessible in any quantity. While it was denounced by many, it won sympathies from two main groups of artists: firstly, established painters who were exploring the incorporation of abstract form with imagery from landscape and figure, and secondly, the younger generation of art students. The British constructivists were unaffected. For these established painters, Abstract Expressionism was more of a pure inspiration than a stylistic stereotype. A few of them experienced dramatic changes of style as a result, while others showed a very restricted interest in it. The reai impact was on the young artists. Under the influence of the Independent Group, which helped in generating an awareness of a new urbanism in London, they treated Abstract Expressionism and its later development Post-Painterly Abstraction, as an authentic reflection of contemporary society. They were not only eager to contribute to it but also to embrace it as their own. At the end of the 1950s, the majority of critics had accepted current status of Abstract Expressionism. Its two major British critics, Patrick Heron and Lawrence Alloway, were activists on t he contemporary art scene. Heron restricted his argument by what was essentially a combination of the painting qualities that Roger Fry had qualified and the idealism of the 1930s abstraction promoted by Herbert Read. Alloway, on the other hand, successfully exploited Abstract Expressionism to promote a new British-movement. His ideas, inspired by Abstract Expressionism as well as American consumerism, popular culture, science and technology, were embraced by young artists. British art was thus transformed in the 1960s, to a urbanisminspired art, which came from the "real' world and was receptive to its influence, rather than retreating into landscape, a psychological inner world or the realms of artistic idealism.