Abstract expressionism developed between 1945 and 1948 by American artists like Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollack, and Robert Motherwell. An outgrowth of surrealism, abstract expressionists also wanted to reach the unconscious mind for imagery. Since art was made intuitively, by recording the spontaneous gesture of the arm as it moves across a canvas or sheet of paper, a large format was used and the focus was on painting. There was little interest in printmaking in America at the time, so that few abstract expressionists produced prints 1945 - 1965.
Willem de Kooning's immense, powerful 1960 lithograph, Litho #2, therefore, is extremely unusual and important. The artist had produced only a few etchings previously and this and Litho #1 were his first attempts at lithography. Made at the print shop of the University of California at Berkeley, experienced lithographers Nathan Oliveira and George Miyasaki helped with the printing. In less than an hour, de Kooning produced images on two large lithographic stones. Karl Kasten, who ran the print shop, remembered, "All of us were overwhelmed by both the quality and the size of what Bill did on those stones...I think they are the greatest prints of the 20th century."
Litho #1 and Litho #2 were highly experimental and so only a few impressions of each were printed on architectural paper which happened to be handy. It is this wonderful sense of immediacy, however, of de Kooning's brush loaded with black ink moving rapidly across the surface of the stone, leaving drips and streaks and huge curving forms, that creates the powerful and exciting effect of continuous motion.