The Bay Area Figurative Movement By Nay, Eric
The Bay Area Figurative Movement, also commonly referred to as the Bay Area Figurative School, was an art movement in the 1950s and 1960s. It was made up of a group of artists working in the San Francisco Bay Area who, in a move away from the New York School mode of abstraction, abandoned painting in the established style of Abstract Expressionism. These West Coast artists focused predominantly on the human body as their subject matter and eschewed Abstract Expressionism’s rejection of representation. The artists’ concentration on figurative work ultimately lent the group its name, although its subject matter included landscapes, cityscapes and still lifes as well. The Bay Area artists shared mutual interests and evolved a shared stylistic vocabulary. They received significant critical recognition, and helped redefine figurative art following Abstract Expressionism through a uniquely regional interpretation of modernist painting. The evolution of the Bay Area Figurative Movement was also culturally associated with the rise of beat culture in San Francisco, West Coast jazz, and reactions to World War II. It remains highly contested whether the Bay Area Figurative Movement was a deliberate and rebellious break with Abstract Expressionism or simply a cyclical return to the human figure as subject matter.