Kline, Franz

Kline, Franz Biography

American painter, one of the original champions of abstract expressionism, which was the dominant movement in painting in New York City during the 1950s. Franz Kline is known for black-and-white artworks, painted with huge, energetic brushstrokes. Franz Kline sometimes treated both white and black areas of his paintings with equal force. Mahoning (1956, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York City), for example, can appear as a structure of white solids on black voids as well as a composition of bold, black shapes across a white background..

Franz Kline was born in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, in the heart of coal mining country. Many of his oil paintings evoke the powerful industrial and machine forms dominant in that landscape. He studied oil painting at Boston University from 1931 to 1935, and in 1937 and 1938 at the Heatherley School of Fine Art in London.

Until the late 1940s Franz Kline painted figures and urban scenes in a relatively conventional, realist style. He began to experiment with abstraction around 1946. A turning point came in 1949 when he viewed his black-and-white sketches enlarged with the aid of a projector, and he realized the expressive power of his graphic style in large scale. Using cheap, commercial paints and housepainters' brushes, Kline began to make black and white marks on large pieces of canvas tacked to his studio walls. Critics quickly recognized these works as an entirely original form of expression and as a major contribution to abstract expressionism.

During the 1950s Kline taught art at Black Mountain College in North Carolina; Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York; the Philadelphia Museum School of Art; and the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, in New York City. In the late 1950s Kline introduced colour into his paintings. Before his death, his work assumed a new direction in the extreme simplicity and elegance of huge, carefully balanced masses.

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