May 01, 2017 3 min read

The term abstract art is loosely associated with all the prominent art movements of the so-called modern era - romanticism, impressionism, expressionism, fauvism, cubism, minimalism and the action art genre made popular by the likes of Jackson Pollock.

What is abstract art?

Instead of simply replicating the chosen subject matter in a precise and exacting manner, abstract artists are more intent on presenting art which doesn’t speak of a recognisable subject but rather concentrates on the emotions evoked by the colour and form of the work.

Those of us who have been seduced by this concerted departure from reality in art have generally been attracted to a specific painting or artist. It could be the bright and boisterous colours and partial abstraction of the fauvists or the geometrical renditions by the principal exponents of cubism - Picasso, Braque and Cezanne!

Choosing abstract art

By understanding abstract art, it is possible to identify the elements which appeal to you. This in turn will aid and abet your quest for contemporary art by emerging and established South African artists who incorporate these elements into their work.

Interestingly enough, art history has evolved side by side with the dramatic changes of the 20th century, with artists expressing the enormous shifts in science, technology and even philosophy in their works.

The major movements of abstract art

As early as the late 1800’s artists such as Whistler, Constable and Turner were exhibiting an objective interest in their landscapes, creating works which evoked a visual sensation.

Although they were the precursors of a new, exciting art, it was the early impressionists who first began the departure from reality in their portrayal of imagery.


The great impressionists, Monet, Sisley and Renoir, broke the shackles of realism and painted ‘en plein air’ for the first time ever. Their works were characterised by the inclusion of movement, a strong emphasis on the accurate depiction of light and the portrayal of overall visual effects over and above the detail synonymous with realism.


Leading expressionists, Edvard Munch, March Chagall, El Greco and others presented the world in a totally subjective manner, fundamentally distorting it to evoke both emotional reactions and ideas. The audacious use of intense colour created paintings which were reactionary to the perception of experience in the contemporary world.


The wild, multi-coloured and expressive style of Les Fauves - Matisse, Braque and Derain - used the boisterous language of colour and wild brush strokes to create wonderful works, where the subject matter was characterised by a high degree of simplification and abstraction.

Modern Abstraction

Celebrated Russian painter, Wassily Kandinsky, the man credited with painting the first modern abstract works, was influenced and inspired by the raw and flamboyant use of colour developed by the Fauves.

He, together with the great abstract expressionists of the Action Art genre - Pollock, Rothko and de Kooning - effectively abandoned the need for subject matter altogether!

Pollock’s most famous paintings, created during the so-called ‘drip period’, have been the greatest influence on one of South Africa’s most accomplished and sought-after abstract artists, the indefatigable Yoka Wright.

Buying Abstract Art

Now that you have a clearer understanding of the different elements of abstract art, browse the featured abstract artists online at the Fine Art Portfolio. You will find similar paintings, either by theme, in reference to an artistic period or by similar artists, which will resonate with your soul.

Buy abstract art by established and emerging South African artists via Fine Art Portfolio today!

Mark Wright
Mark Wright

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