Summary of Art Informel
Responding to the atrocities and traumas of World War II, artists associated with Art Informel broke with previous traditions of naturalistic, figurative, and geometric work to embrace anti-compositional forms, gestural techniques, and a Surrealist-influenced spontaneity and irrationality. Coined by critic Michel Tapié, Art Informel was an umbrella term that encompassed an array of styles and artists who, as Tapié described, were not interested in movements but "in something much rarer, authentic Individuals." Tapié included in this grouping European artists as well as Americans, Dutch, and Japanese artists, making Art Informel into an international reaction to world events.
While its diversity has made it a difficult style to define and while it has largely been confined to Europe, eclipsed by Abstract Expressionism, the various styles, including Art Brut, Lyrical Abstraction, Tachisme, Matter Painting, CoBrA, and Gutai have had lasting influence on Neo-Expressionist painters, Post-Minimalist sculptors, and the broad field of Performance Art.
Key Ideas & Accomplishments
- Art Informel, in all of its guises, relies largely on gestural abstraction, but those gestures often contain various, even contradictory, intentions. From the existential explorations of the Abstract Expressionists to the virtuosic, dramatic performances of Georges Mathieu or the ironic drawings of Asger Jorn, gestural painting allowed the artists to embrace spontaneity and subvert the aesthetic status quo that emerged before World War II.
- Despite the stylistic differences, Art Informel confronted the subjects of war, savagery, trauma, death, angst, and irrationality in an effort to come to terms with historical events and to reimagine a new way forward, to fashion a new society.
- While the artists were loosely affiliated, the designation "Art Informel" created a unity that permeated several international exhibitions that echoed contemporaneous international calls for peace and unity.
Overview of Art Informel
Danish artist Asger Jorn, a founding member of CoBrA (and very much a part of Art Informel movement), was known for fighting against capitalism in art so much so that he rejected the prestigious Guggenheim Prize in 1964, famously telling Harry Guggenheim: “Go to hell with your money.”
Important Art and Artists of Art Informel
Fautrier painted a deeply textured, organic shape, mottled with greens, browns, creams, and pinks that evokes an organic, even humanoid shape, set against a tactile, earthy ground. The crimson s-curve located in the top right barely suggests part of a face or a profile in the process of decomposition. Responding to the Nazi torture of his French comrades, Fautrier hoped to communicate the traumas and existential malaise felt in postwar Europe, and yet the painting's almost jewel-like beauty caused discomfort among viewers.
La Juive, or The Jewess, is part of the artist's series Les Otages (The Hostages) (1943-45), which in large part sparked the Art Informel movement. Its abstract and rough "otherness" connected with the materiality and non-traditional paint application championed by Tapié and others, and the organizing principles of the 1945 exhibition of Les Otages emphasized the work's confrontational power, as the paintings were hung closely together in rows that evoked prisoners lined up for execution. Fautrier and other artists associated with Art Informel sought to grapple with the state of society and culture after World War II and with their art made a brute challenge to viewers to do the same.
This work depicts an energetic vortex of dark calligraphic lines, extending from a void-like center, a kind of swirling nebula of varying shades of brown and yellow. Small globular drops of intense blue, black dots, and squiggles, throng within the form, creating the sense of a small microscopic or molecular world, pulsing with the forces of creation and disintegration. The work reflects the artist's statement: "A tiny sheet of paper can contain the whole world." Stained with varying shades of blue, the edges of the canvas both frame the central image and enhance its buoyant and floating effect. Reflecting the influence of Miro's images of teeming small biomorphic forms, the image also evokes those nebulae, called star nurseries, as new stars form within them. The philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre described Wols as "human and Martian together... He applied himself to seeing the Earth with inhuman eyes: it is, he thinks, the only way of universalizing our experience."
Wols created his own pictorial idiom by using paint in innovative and untraditional ways, including, as art curator Toby Kamps described, "thin glazes of color, scablike impastos, splashed and poured pigment, steered rivulets of liquid paint, scraped-down margins, back-of-the-brush scratching and writing, even marks made with the circular mouths of paint tubes." Often likened to Jackson Pollock, Wols' paintings were smaller and more controlled than Pollock's drip paintings. Interned in a camp in Provence in 1939 and escaping in 1940, Wols used his early training at the Bauhaus and with the Surrealists to create his Zirkus Wols, as he called them, while he was in hiding from the Nazis. These unstructured intuitive watercolors relied on randomness and spontaneity and deeply informed his later oil paintings. His work was driven by a belief in the abstract, as he wrote in his Aphorisms (1944), "Nothing can be explained, all we know is the appearances... The Abstract that permeates all things is ungraspable. In every moment, in everything, eternity is present." His work profoundly influenced Tapié's concept of Art Informel, as he wrote, "an entire system of certainty has collapsed" and needed to be replaced by a "fertile and intoxicating anarchy."
A Portuguese artist who spent considerable time in Paris in the 1930s and, after fleeing Europe to Brazil, returned to the city in the late 1940s, Maria Helena Vieira da Silva quickly made a name for herself among the Lyrical Abstractionists. Her distorted, warped, and fractured geometries suggest architectural interiors that create a kind of claustrophobic vertigo. While her compositions are more linear and at times more geometric than many Lyrical Abstractionists, she shared their subject matter - the trauma and devastation of World War II. The entire surface appears to be covered in small shimmering tiles, except for the structural beams along the edge of the ceiling. Diagonal lines intersect the opaque geometric tiles, giving them an effect of shattered glass. The conflicting shapes created by the contrasting black, grey, and white color palette enhances the effect, as perspective becomes fluid, shifting ambiguously, creating an anguished perception of space. As a result, the work evokes internal space, of a mind caught in a state of anxiety. As art historian Martha Meskimmon recalled, "As her admiring critics from the 1960s and 1970s would have it, her fascinating 'hypothetical geographies' were 'mysterious horizons,' 'vistas that exist nowhere but have become real because Vieira da Silva has brought them into being.'" Like Wols, Vieira da Silva made unseen, interior, abstract worlds real and palpable.
Though iconoclastic, her intricate and spiky compositions were a unique contribution to Art Informel and made her a leading artist of the movement, as this work was shown internationally in 1950, where it also attracted the attention of the American Abstraction Expressionists.
Useful Resources on Art Informel
- 130k viewsA short clip showing Karel Appel painting
- 3k viewsKarel Appel: A Gesture of ColorOur PickThe Phillips Collection
- 4k viewsAlberto Burri: 'Artist, Poet, and Creator of the New'Christie's
- 20k viewsAlberto Burri: Guggenheim Exhibition
- 23k viewsClip from "Fury of Being: Georges Mathieu"
- 10k viewsAxel Heil, Helle Brøns and Karen Kurczynski on Asger Jorn
- 21k viewsMark Haddon on Jean Dubuffet | TateShotsOur Pick
- 5k viewsAlberto Burri: The Trauma of PaintingOur PickLecture by curator Emily Braun
- 20k viewsAlberto Burri: Material PaintingEmily Braun and conservator Carol Stringari
- 6k viewsInside the Mind of Canadian Artist Jean Paul RiopelleTalk by Pierre Schneider, Tate Modern
- Meet the Enigmatic French Painter That Inspired Daniel Templon to Become a GalleristArtnet Gallery Network / September 12, 2018
- Asger JornBy David Ebony / Art in America / September 26, 2016
- Karel AppelBy Christopher Masters / The Guardian / May 10. 2006
- The Dark, Unruly Brilliance of a Master of Art InformelBy Joseph Nechvatal / Hyperallergic / May 14, 2018
- WOLS: RETROSPECTIVEBy Devon Britt-Darby / Arts and Culture Texas / September 20, 2013
- Great Works: The Blue Phantom 1951, Wols (73cm x 60 cm), Ludwig Museum, CologneOur PickBy Michael Glover / Independent / September 23, 2011
- The Eye of Michel Tapié, 'Art Lover'Our PickBy Juliette Evezard / July 26, 2018
- The 'informel' whirlwind that swept across JapanBy Matthew Larking / Japan Times / August 30, 2016
- Shedding New Light on the Late Dutch Artist Karel AppelBy Nina Siegal / New York Times / February 4, 2016
- The Japanese painter Kazuo Shiraga is a 50-year "overnight" success.By Ben Davis / Artnet / February 20, 2015
- Art in Review; Jean-Paul RiopelleBy Ken Johnson / New York Times / April 22, 2005