by Benjamin Genocchio


Abstraction in art is usually understood to mean an artwork that does not attempt to portray something in the real world accurately, such as a person, place or thing, but instead relies on lines, colors, and shapes to evoke an understanding, a sensation, or a feeling. Abstract art varies greatly in degree and kind, with the determining factor of an abstract work of art being the level of independence from recognizable imagery.

Abstract art has long been the favorite choice for architects and designers as well as anyone looking to decorate their homes with sleek modern interiors. The use of shapes and forms can effortlessly and beautifully compliment furniture as well as a range of decorative objects in a design scheme, frequently adding a pop of color to an otherwise minimal interior without being intrusive or, worse, a distraction.

“Abstract art works so well with contemporary design as it sets the mood and tone of a room through color, patterns, and composition,” says designer Amy Lau, from Amy Lau Design, who often sources art for her clients. “For example, if I wanted a room to feel more energized I would lean toward colors that are upbeat and brighter with a composition that is more lively. To make a room feel more calming I would choose a piece of art that has less movement and is more subdued in color palette.”

Abstract art also works in contemporary interiors because it often provides “a foil for other shapes in a room,” says designer Jeff Lincoln from Jeff Lincoln Art + Design in New York. “If you have very organic and curvy pieces then a hard edge abstraction of the kind by Al Held, say, works nicely. Conversely, in an interior with a lot of straight lines, the more riotous abstractions of a Jack Tworkov or a Carla Accardi work effectively. It’s primarily an issue of point and counterpoint in interior design.”

Abstract art as we think of it today began in the late 19th and early 20th century in Europe with the pioneering efforts of a group of young painters interested in moving art away from realistic depiction in the wake of the invention of photography. French, Italian, and Spanish artists associated with Cubism, Fauvism, and Futurism embraced abstraction of a kind but so too did numerous Russian and German artists associated with art movements like Constructivism, Suprematism, die Brucke, and de Stijl.

Asia has a longstanding tradition of abstraction in art that predates abstraction in Europe or America by centuries. The impetus here was often religious or mystical, something which the early Western abstract artists consciously embraced — Robert Motherwell, for example, was inspired by Chinese calligraphy, while Sam Francis took his inspiration from Zen Buddhism and Eastern philosophies.

Today, art that distances itself from any representational or referential depiction is commonplace and can be found anywhere in the world. But distinguishing between a meaningful abstract painting and decorative pictures of nothing is not always as easy as it might seem. Here we profile some of the abstract artists of the past few decades that we believe have expanded the boundaries of this popular, universal art style.

Robert Motherwell (1915–1991), Elegy to the Spanish Republic No. 163, 1979–1982. Acrylic and Conté crayon on board, 23¼ x 29¼ inches. Bernard Jacobson Gallery, London, England. Available through

Robert Motherwell

Bernard Jacobson Gallery

“Robert Motherwell painted pictures that are abstract in appearance, but there is meaning behind his work,” says Constance Aehlig from Bernard Jacobson Gallery in London. “There is an intellectual thought behind his brushwork and abstract gestures and the feelings he has in the artworks. It is not like Jackson Pollock and the style of drip paintings which are about the overall surface and visual effect. For Motherwell, it is an intellectual thing. Motherwell was interested in Asian calligraphy, science, and unconscious gestures in art and his paintings frequently draw inspiration from these eclectic sources. Elegy to the Spanish Republic No. 163, from 1979–1982 is an acrylic and Conté crayon on board painting depicting a rough black irregular shape in different sizes. It belongs to his most famous series of works using this same shape and related title as a lamentation for the destruction and loss of life during the Spanish Civil War.

Richard Anuszkiewicz (1930–2020), Entrance to Spring, 1971. Acrylic on panel, 24 x 18 inches. Palm Beach Modern Gallery, Lake Worth, Florida. Available through

Richard Anuszkiewicz

Palm Beach Modern Gallery

This mesmerizing acrylic on panel painting by Richard Anuszkiewicz, titled Entrance to Spring, was painted in 1971 yet looks and feels fresh and contemporary. “With their graphic nature and complementary colors which take on different aspects depending on the angle and ambient light, “striking” is how I would describe an Anuszkiewicz painting,” says Palm Beach Modern gallery owner Wade Terwilliger. “His clarity of purpose — ‘I am here to investigate juxtapositions of color and light’ — gives his work strength and intensity, regardless of the color palette or size.” This aspect of his work lends itself to being purely decorative but somehow the artist manages to transcend decoration with his attention to detail and spiritual resonances. “I could see it on an accent wall above a chair in a living room overlooking the ocean,” Terwilliger says.

Y. Z. Kami (b. 1956), Endless Prayers XVII, 2009. Mixed media on paper, 42 x 30 inches. Leila Heller Gallery, New York, New York.

Y. Z. Kami

Leila Heller Gallery

Endless Prayers XVII (2009) is a painting made of mixed media by Iranian-born artist Y. Z. Kami. He is known for his large-scale portrait paintings, usually in oil paint, based on photographs from his own life, He has also produced several important and parallel series of meditative abstract artworks such as the popular “The Domes” series which depicts tessellated voids of color incorporating references to sacred architecture found in the Iranian city of Isfahan, capital of the Persian Empire in the 16th and 17th centuries, as well as this painting, from the “Endless Prayers” series in which “Persian, Hebrew, Arabic, Sanskrit poems, prayers and verses have been cut into rectangular fragments and pasted into mandala formations, their spiraling patterns echoing the repetitive nature of worship,” says Leila Heller, the gallery owner. This is a deeply meditative painting designed to blur the boundaries of the earthly and the divine.

Arielle Zamora (b. 1990), Six And Six, 2022. Oil paint, joint compound, cold wax on panel, 40 x 30 inches. Kathryn Markel Fine Arts, New York, New York, Available through

Arielle Zamora

Kathryn Markel Fine Arts

Arielle Zamora’s Six And Six, 2022 is painted in oil paint, joint compound, and cold wax on panel. It is a wonderfully pleasing composition using a limited black and white palette to create a contrast between foreground and background, positive and negative shapes. The unusual use of joint compound as a ground gives the work a soft, porous quality and lends texture in the form of residual blemishes and bubbles, counterbalancing the precise geometry of the grid-like repeated shapes. “Arielle Zamora’s works explore the tension between a geometric perfection and the unexpected imperfections inherent in a handmade process,” says Kathryn Markel from Kathryn Markel Fine Arts. “The symmetrical curved shapes that compose the paintings are based on rigorous geometry and reflect Zamora’s love of clean lines, order, and the predictability of the grid.”

Nola Zirin (b. 1920), Syncopation, 2019. Oil, acrylic and acrylic spray on wood panel, 24 x 66 inches. June Kelly Gallery, New York, New York. Available through

Nola Zirin

June Kelly Gallery

Zirin’s geometric abstractions slide effortlessly between form and formlessness. She initially studied printmaking, and that is visible in the layering of her highly textured, and graphic images that pay attention to issues of tone and line — qualities that are associated with making prints. Zirin has a wonderful freedom in her brushstrokes as well as spray painting which is gestural but at the same time gives off the feelings of being intentional and part of a conscious design. This isn’t intuitive painting, it is more a kind of smart painting by design, by an artist who knows exactly what she is doing and yet can paint pictures that border on the edge of chaos. Music and in particular jazz come to mind such as the contrasts within a geometric pattern leading to a dizzying sense of visual dissonance and irregularity. June Kelly has an eye for talented abstract artists and once again she hits the high note.

Works by Nola Zirin in Assembling Chaos: Recent Paintings (2022) at June Kelly Gallery, New York.

Chae Sung-Pil (b. 1972), Portrait d’eau (230506), 2023. Natural pigment on canvas, 45.67 x 35.04 inches. Dumonteil, Paris, France. Available through

Chae Sung-Pil


Korean artist Chae Sung-Pil likes to paint water. His recent Portrait d’eau series of paintings made of natural pigment and other materials on canvas are presented as portraits of water in motion, but given the amorphous nature of the subject matter the paintings take on the properties of abstract compositions. They evoke ebbs and flows of water through vast swirling brushstrokes of vivid blue paint with tufted white tips simulating foamy oxygen bubbles in the water. Waves come to mind, crashing against one another and water droplets flying into the air in a variegated spray. These are marvelously dynamic, rhythmic paintings that dazzle.

Chae Sung-Pil installation view at DUMONTEIL Shanghai.

Emily Mason (1932–2019), Harbor, 1994. Oil on canvas, 56 x 54 inches. Vallarino Fine Art, New York, New York. Available through

Emily Mason

Vallarino Fine Art

Vallarino Fine Art specializes in classic American abstract art, especially the work of a second generation of abstract and expressionist painters who emerged in the 1960s and 1970s and lived and worked in the New York area. Emily Mason is one such artist — the daughter of Alice Trumbull Mason, a founding member of the first generation of American abstract artists. She painted luminous and lyrical landscapes that hover on the edge of figuration. Harbor, 1994, an oil painting on canvas is a fine example of her late style in which fields of vivid and rich color interact and combine to create an evocative abstract composition — in this case, as the title suggests, an undulating body of water abutting land. Today her paintings are greatly prized among collectors.

Charlotte Park (1918–2010), Acacia, 1981. Acrylic on canvas, 14 x 14 inches. Berry Campbell, New York, New York. Available through

Charlotte Park

Berry Campbell

Charlotte Park was one of a coterie of talented female abstract expressionist painters in America during the mid-20th century who did not receive the attention and accolades they deserved in part because of their gender. Park sought inspiration in nature but her paintings are entirely abstract with a preference for depicting random, unidentifiable colorful shapes floating against a textured monochromatic ground that at times possess similarities to the work of her husband James Brooks. Her titles often refer to nature, such as a 1975 work, titled Amaranth, made of acrylic and oil crayon on canvas, or Acacia, 1981, seemingly depicting falling tree leaves. Park was highly attuned to light and sensation and used color to evoke them. “Charlotte Park uses bright colors and energetic brushwork to create vibrant paintings using an abstract vocabulary,” says Christine Berry from Berry Campbell Gallery.

Lita Albuquerque (b. 1946), Trajectory through the Sun Exhalation #2, 2000. Mixed media on paper, 22 x 30 inches. Peter Blake Gallery, Laguna Beach, California. Available through

Lita Albuquerque

Peter Blake Gallery

Abstraction comes in many types and forms and one of the most original is found in the work of Lita Albuquerque. Her Trajectory through the Sun Exhalation #2, 2000, on paper, or Untitled 2002 presents us with a mystical spin on geometric abstraction which results in a simple, minimal composition of uncanny luminosity and spirituality. No surprise given she is a land artist, who does video, photography, and performance art as well as painting as part of her “studio” practice. “Albuquerque’s auric field paintings investigate space, color, and materiality,” says Peter Blake, who has represented the artist for some years now. Her recent paintings are executed on top of layers of lush black and white pigment backgrounds, with the paintings’ top layers of colorful shapes (often done in gold leaf) seeming to vibrate. Light is her subject matter, her theme, her muse, being absorbed and reflected in her paintings.

Steven Alexander (b. 1953), Voice 11, 2019. Acrylic and oil on canvas, 48 x 72 inches. Spanierman Modern, New York, New York.

Steven Alexander

Spanierman Modern

Whatever your feelings are, for or against, art that distances itself from any sort of representational or referential depiction there is a brand of abstraction that deals with pure blocks of color. Steven Alexander makes meditative, luminous abstract paintings that invite viewers to sit, view, and contemplate geometric shapes and forms. He is a craftsman, like so many abstract painters today, frequently combining oil and acrylic paint on canvas or paper, applied with exacting attention to surface detail. Color is his subject matter and primary tool and through the diversity and subtlety of his palette conjures up an impressive range of moods and emotions. These are emotional, intuitive abstractions for gentle contemplation. “What I find most compelling about Steven’s work are the sumptuous painterly surfaces created by his many-layered applications of both acrylic and oil paint. His luminous paintings are marvelously contemplative and serene which he achieves through his use of color and form in the same way that Rothko did,” says Gavin Spanierman from Spanierman Modern. Several works in his Voice series of paintings such as Voice 6, Voice 7 and Voice 11 deftly illustrate how he balances and weighs colors to create pleasing, thoughtful visual contrasts.