In the 1950s, artists such as Mark Rothko and Barnett Newman constrained the impulsiveness of Action Painting within their ‘colour fields’, but retained the emotional character of Abstract Expressionism. In their works, areas of colour combine in stark contrasts or complementary interplay. Rothko wanted to use the impact of colour fields to engage the viewer’s sensibilities, while Newman was more interested in a quest for absolute beauty and the sublime.
Meanwhile in Paris, which had held that position for the preceding century and a half, abstract movements came to the fore in the shape of the ‘informel’. Yet figurative art in Europe was by no means a spent force, thanks in particular to Pablo Picasso and—notably through his work as a sculptor—Alberto Giacometti. Francis Bacon (1909–1992), an Irish born British painter working in London, kept the theme of the human image going, producing radically new paintings of violently contorted figures seemingly trapped within cagelike structures.