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All Artwork ©2018 by Emma Ballou

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Inspired By The Greats - The Early American Abstract Expressionists


“Art wasn’t removed from life, it was life.”

~Mary Gabriel, Author of “Ninth Street Women


My artistic process is very organic and cycles with the seasons. I have found that the more aware I am of my conscious self the more my creativity flows, because after all, art comes from within. Through the past two years I have undergone an “awakening” that has shifted how I see the world and how I see myself in it. At times I crave expansive surfaces to create on, and other times I desire the small and detailed artwork which allows me tight control over the image that I’m creating. I’m fascinated by the unspoken language that emerges when an artist vulnerably stands in front of a blank surface and is brave enough to open their soul to the universe to see what emerges.


Recently I have become fascinated with the lives and art of the first and second generations of the American Abstract Expressionists. I just finished reading the book “Ninth Street Women” by Mary Gabriel that detailed the lives of five fantastic abstract women painters; Helen Frankenthaler (My favorite!), Grace Hartigan, Lee Krasner, Joan Mitchell, and Elaine de Kooning. I was inspired by their stories of how they created with impact and lived bravely during this revolutionary time for American art.


Helen Frankenthaler, From Her "Life" Magazine Article 1956


Art cannot be created in a vacuum because life is not lived in a vacuum. The artists of the 20th century Abstract Expressionist movement didn’t just wake up and decide to remove all form from their paintings on a whim, it was a reaction to the times that they were living in. They existed in a world that had been destroyed by war, dehumanized by the death camps, and were living in fear of the birth of the atomic bomb. With all this devastation and darkness around them what else could they paint with any degree of honesty but their own internal voice and spirit? These women’s stories resonated with me on a very deep level. Their bravery in their art has inspired me to also focus on, explore, and capture these elusive moments of growth and space that are currently blooming within myself through abstraction. I am so excited to see where these creative internal meanderings might lead in my artwork, but also in my life.



Through the stories of these amazing women’s lives in the book “Ninth Street Women” I have also begun to truly understand the fantastic cross pollination that can occur between poetry and art. In the American community of artists in the 1950s, poets played a vital role. This is certainly evident through the beautiful friendship between artist Grace Hartigan and poet Frank O’Hara. In 1952, Grace Hartigan created a series of twelve abstract paintings all inspired by texts by Frank O’Hara. The exhibit opened in New York City and was called “Oranges”. This amazing exhibit was clear evidence of the creative magic that can occur when a poet and artist work together.


Grace Hartigan - Cover for Frank O'Hara's

"Oranges" (1953)


For the past two years I have felt this connection to poetry in my art. I have made it a practice to write a piece of poetry or quote on the back of all of my work. The text I select always speaks to how I was feeling when I was creating it. I find the organic connection that happens between poetry and painting fascinating, and I would like to explore this connection more deeply in my artwork.


“Art is important for it commemorates the seasons of the soul, or a special or tragic event in the soul’s journey. Art is not just for oneself, not just a marker of one’s own understanding. It is also a map of those who follow afterwards.”


~Clarissa Pinkola Estes