Abstract art has come a long way from its inception in the early 20th century. In its early days, the world of Abstraction was dominated by male artists, and the contributions of women to this field was often overlooked. However, there were a few female artists who played a pivotal role in the development of Abstract art and made significant contributions to the field. Among them were Joan Mitchell, Helen Frankenthaler, and Yayoi Kusama.

Joan Mitchell at her studio in France. Photo courtesy of the Joan Mitchell Foundation

Joan Mitchell was an American painter known for her powerful and expressive canvases that explored color and gesture in a way that broke away from traditional figurative painting. Her works are characterized by her thick, vigorous brushstrokes and her intense and layered application of paint. She drew inspiration from her love of nature, particularly the landscape of France where she lived and worked, and often used the colors and forms found in nature to inform her compositions. Her paintings are notable for their boldness, their emotional intensity, and their dynamic movement that seems to suggest the natural world in motion. One of Mitchell's most famous works is "Ladybug," a large-scale painting created in 1957. The painting features a vibrant red background with black and white brushstrokes that evoke the movement of ladybugs. Mitchell's use of color and gesture in "Ladybug" is a testament to her innovative style and her ability to capture the energy and vitality of nature in her work.

Installation view of Joan Mitchell, at the Louis Vuitton Fondation. Photo courtesy of the Joan Mitchell Foundation

Helen Frankenthaler was another American painter whose distinctive style of painting revolutionized the art world. Frankenthaler's unique technique involved the staining of the canvas with thinned-out paint, creating an almost watercolour-like effect. This method allowed her to create a sense of depth and space in her work, and her use of color and gesture was central to her artistic vision. Her paintings are characterized by a dreamlike quality, with fluid forms and sweeping brushstrokes that invite the viewer into an immersive and contemplative experience. One of Frankenthaler's most famous works is "Mountains and Sea," a painting created in 1952. The painting features a blue-green background with bold red and orange shapes that suggest mountains and waves. Frankenthaler's use of color and her unique technique in "Mountains and Sea" paved the way for future generations of artists and established her as a leading figure in the Abstract Expressionist movement.

Helen Frankenthaler “Sea Change: A Decade of Paintings, 1974–1983” at Gagosian, Rome. Photo courtesy of Gagosian

Yayoi Kusama, a Japanese artist, has become renowned for her psychedelic and immersive installations, which explore themes of repetition, infinity, and the relationship between the individual and the collective. Her signature dots, which cover much of her work, are meant to symbolize the idea of infinity, and her use of repetition creates a sense of endlessness and the infinite. Her installations often encourage active participation and interaction from the viewer, inviting them to become part of the work. One of Kusama's most famous works is "Infinity Mirrored Room - The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away," an installation that features an enclosed room with mirrors on all sides, a shallow pool of water on the floor, and LED lights hanging from the ceiling. The lights change color and create the illusion of infinite space, with the viewer becoming a part of the work as their reflection is multiplied infinitely. Kusama's innovative installations have had a profound impact on the contemporary art world and have inspired countless artists to explore the possibilities of immersive and interactive art.

Yayoi Kusama in New York, 1970s. Photo courtesy of Dazed and Confused

Together, these female pioneers of abstraction represent a powerful shift in the art world, challenging traditional gender roles and pushing the boundaries of what was thought to be possible in abstract art. Their unique styles, innovative techniques, and bold use of color and form continue to inspire artists around the world, and their influence can still be felt today. Through their ground-breaking work, they not only left a lasting legacy but also paved the way for future generations of female artists. Their willingness to take risks, experiment with different techniques and embrace new forms of expression has created an enduring legacy that continues to inspire artists and audiences alike.

Yayoi Kusama, Nets, 1997

The contributions of Joan Mitchell, Helen Frankenthaler, and Yayoi Kusama have helped to reshape the landscape of abstract art, breaking down barriers and challenging traditional conventions. Their bold and innovative work has had a profound impact on the art world and continues to inspire artists around the world to this day. Their legacy serves as a powerful reminder of the transformative power of art and the importance of diversity and inclusion in the creative world.

WHAT'S UP/ HONG KONG 'Women in Abstraction' is on view between 20.03.2023 - 25.03.2023 at 6/F Pedder Building, Hong Kong