airbrush body painting
by Christian Leitner

Action Painting

Action Painting is a form of Abstract Expressionism painting that involves the very physical use of the artist’s body in the application, manipulation and control of the paint. Painting in the style of the Action Painters is extremely fun and enjoyable for artists that have a lot of physical energy and enjoying experimenting with new and creative techniques for applying oil paint, acrylic paint or any other type of paint to canvas, solid supports, found objects or other surfaces such as glass, plastic, old doors, and plexiglass.

Jackson Pollock is the most famous Action Painter, and many people think of his style as the textbook example of Action Painting. Many artists today are continuing on where Jackson Pollock left off, trying new and wonderful techniques that involve a wide variety of tools and materials in the creative process. The theories and ideas expressed by Jackson Pollock have continued to inspire and move many artists to experiment and explore art in new ways. The old paradigm of traditional studio techniques has been toppled by the need for the artist to break away and try new ways of achieving artistic freedom. The fact that the highest price ever paid for a painting is a Jackson Pollock Action Painting shows that the public understands and appreciates this transition to a form of spontaneous and pure creative expression.

For many Action Painters, music has become an important part of the process, taking the idea of Action Painting and turning it into a dance with paint and canvas. The music will often have an effect on the way that the finished piece turns out by inspiring the artist to use certain emotional colors, execute certain movements and apply the paint in new and different ways. Some artist have even become performers, engaging in the act of Action Painting live at a concert or recital, backed by live music in front of a large crowd. This allows the artist to truly become part of a living, organic, multi-media experience of creativity.

Action Painting can be a highly therapeutic and cathartic experience, taking the Abstract Expressionist artist to places in his or her mind and spirit that are not always accessible through other forms of creative expression. The idea of Action Painting is to experience a transformation of emotion and thought, and express the feeling directly to the viewer without the hindrance of the analytical, left-brained mind.  The Action Painting artist often comes away with a feeling release and emotional satisfaction at the physical interaction between artist and artwork.

Action Painting can be done in any medium, but acrylics lend themselves well because of easy cleanup. Action Painters will often end up getting paint everywhere, and acrylic paint washes up with soap and water. Oil paints will produce a brilliant color palette, but care must be taken to protect the artist and the work area. The nature of Action Painting requires the artist to work in close proximity to the canvas, often getting paint on the artist in the process. Oil paint also requires a well-ventilated work area to protect the artist from harmful fumes and vapors.

Many painters are picking up where Jackson Pollock left off, such as Jarrett Leone, an Abstract Expressionist from Asheville, NC. Leone’s paintings are the obvious evolution of this style and are a prime example of the spirit of this kind of work.


Andrew Xavier has been writing on various topics for over 30 years. He specializes in the Fine Arts.

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