Perhaps I was the only one that immediately dropped everything and ran to the post office, but I wasn’t the only mail-sending art lover thrilled with the U.S. Postal Service’s latest stamps. In March, the USPS released a sheet honoring American “Abstract Expressionist” painters. These ten artists, some of the greatest of the twentieth century, moved the United States to the forefront of the international art scene (for the first time) in the 1950s. We have many of their works on view at the Milwaukee Art Museum.
The stamps feature Hans Hofmann, Mark Rothko, Clyfford Still, Barnett Newman, Robert Motherwell, Adolph Gottlieb, Arshile Gorky, Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock, and Joan Mitchell. All were part of a post-WWII New York City–based emergence of spontaneous art that affected dance, theater, poetry, and music. These ten painters shared the need to express both their emotions and physical motions through their work, rather than striving to represent reality. To Pollock, this abstract expression meant the spontaneity of dripping paint onto his famous canvases. To Motherwell, bold black gestural shapes conveyed both his mental state and his paintbrush-moving physical state. Viewing the painting, we can feel like he just swiped the canvas (with much energy and vigor!) with a dripping wet brush.
In Gallery 18 (main level) and in the Bradley Galleries (upper level) at the Museum, you can see larger-than-postage-stamp-size works of Joan Mitchell, Rothko, Motherwell, Gottlieb, de Kooning, and Hans Hofmann. You can meditate with Mark Rothko’s color blocks, deciding if his Green, Red, Blue (1955) conveys emotions that are not able to be expressed verbally. To me, it does.