Gestural' is a term employed to characterise the technique of applying paint with bold, sweeping brush strokes in a free and expressive manner.
The term 'gestural' initially emerged to describe the painting style of abstract expressionist artists like Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline, Robert Motherwell, Hans Hofmann, and others, often referred to as 'action painters.' In Pollock's case, he might use a dried brush, a stick, or even pour paint directly from a can, creating a sense that the artist physically acted out their inner impulses.
The idea was that the viewer could perceive something of the artist's emotions or state of mind through the resulting paint marks. De Kooning explained that he painted in this manner to continually infuse his work with various elements, such as drama, anger, pain, and love, allowing the viewer to interpret these emotions or ideas through their own eyes.
This approach to painting draws its origins from expressionism and automatism, notably the work of Joan Miró. In his 1970 history of abstract expressionism, Irvine Sandler distinguished two branches within the movement: the 'gesture painters' and the 'colour field' painters.