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Movements, Styles, and Tendencies Hard-edge Painting Art Works

Hard-edge Painting

Hard-edge Painting Collage

Started: 1959

Ended: Early 1970s

"Abstract Classicist painting is hard-edged painting. Forms are finite, flat, rimmed by a hard, clean edge. These forms are not intended to evoke in the spectator any recollections of specific shapes he may have encountered in some other connection. They are autonomous shapes, sufficient unto themselves as shapes."

Important Art and Artists of Hard-edge Painting

The below artworks are the most important in Hard-edge Painting - that both overview the major ideas of the movement, and highlight the greatest achievements by each artist in Hard-edge Painting. Don't forget to visit the artist overview pages of the artists that interest you.

Black Pillars (1957)

By: Karl Benjamin

Considered one of Benjamin's signature paintings, Black Pillars has won new renown after becoming a centerpiece of the recent traveling exhibition Birth of the Cool, organized by the Orange County Museum of Art. Benjamin's use of somber blues, his sleek forms and shadow play are now considered emblematic of post-war American style. Although some of Benjamin's color forms in Black Pillars recall the form of old television screens, the artist was doing nothing more than playing with opposing colors and forms to create a visually engaging picture.

Opposing #15 (1959)

By: Frederick Hammersley

Hammersley's Opposing #15 contains the visual symmetry often associated with post-painterly abstraction and Color Field Painting, but it lacks any sort of color interaction or balance. Hammersley pitted contrasting colors (mainly primaries) against each other, along with basic geometric forms that seem to have no business interacting. The end result displays one of the defining characteristics of many hard-edge paintings, which was the presence of rich and saturated color, clean lines, and flat surface, and a disregard for relationships between the colors that comprise the painting. All this suggests the shift in interests that took place as Color Field Painting ceded to Post-painterly abstraction; preoccupation with the expressive power of color gave way to interest in optical phenomena.

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Dichotomic Organization (1959)

By: Lorser Feitelson

Feitelson's Dichotomic Organization could be called a hard-edged interpretation of a Clyfford Still painting. The sharp color forms and hot-vs.-cold themes recall Still's own brand of Color Field Painting, while Feitelson's sense of dimension all make this a very unique work in the catalog of hard-edge paintings of the late 1950s and early 1960s. Jules Langsner once referred to Feitelson's work as containing "nothing ambiguous or fuzzily subjective." In other words, Langsner perceived Feitelson to be an artist with a stunningly clear vision, which was to create captivating art without any indication of the artist's perspective.

Y-1957 (1957)

By: John McLaughlin

Although generally hard to gauge, McLaughlin may be the least well known of the four abstract classicists, or California hard-edge painters. While having no signature style of his own, McLaughlin was a master colorist and composer of minimalist nonobjective paintings. His Y-1957 was among the early hard-edge works (although the term "hard-edge" has yet to be coined) that caught the attention of Langsner and prompted him to gather like-minded artists in an effort to highlight this new phase in West coast-based abstract painting. This simple stripe painting not only subtly played with the fundamentals of visual symmetry, but also predated the more well-known stripe paintings of Kenneth Noland.

Hyena Stomp (1962)

By: Frank Stella

Stella was among the New York-based hard-edge painters who caught the attention of Jewish Museum director Alan Solomon, who would later curate the well-received Second-Generation Abstraction in 1963. Hyena Stomp is typical of his move towards color after his famous emergence with the Black Paintings. It balances four converging forms to suggest a complex prism of color; upon closer inspection one notices that the painting is completely asymmetrical.

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Untitled (1969)

By: Robert Irwin

Robert Irwin was not associated with the original group of California hard-edge painters, but the breadth of his early work indicates a loose kinship with their stunningly simple compositions. Irwin's disc series, which includes the above untitled work, played with subtle degrees of light and perspective. What he achieved with these works was to take the components of hard-edge and post-painterly (art composed of basic shapes, colors, lines and geometric forms) and re-interpret them within a three-dimensional space. Untitled also took the tenets of Color Field Painting, wherein colors interact and cover an entire space, and re-interpreted it so that people were now interacting with the shapes, lines, and form of the artwork itself.

Related Movements and Major Works

No. 6 (Violet, Green, Red) (1951)

Movement: Abstract Expressionism

By: Mark Rothko

Mark Rothko's work exemplifies Abstract Expressionism's Color Field paintings. Each piece is titled by color variations, and all consist of soft, rectangular bands of color stretching horizontally across the canvas. Violet, Green and Red is a prime example of this kind of chromatic abstraction.

Color Field painters were concerned with brushstroke and paint texture, but they came to view color as the most powerful communication tool. Rothko's blocks of color were meant to strike up a relationship with the viewer's deep consciousness, to provide a contemplative, meditative space in which to visually investigate one's own moods and affiliations with the chosen palette. He sought to distill an essence, or true nature, out of codified hues. Along with his friend, the painter Adolph Gottlieb, Rothko wrote a series of statements in 1943 to explain his work. In one, they wrote: "We favor the simple expression of the complex thought."

Cycle (1960)

Movement: Post-Painterly Abstraction

By: Kenneth Noland

One of Noland's signature series of paintings was the Target paintings, which for him also doubled as his own brand of Color Field Painting and geometric abstraction. In Cycle Noland created something particularly uncomplicated and, in fact, the near opposite of the Color Field style. Cycle's central target is entirely surrounded by bare canvas; a compositional decision also made by fellow painter Morris Louis. What Noland achieved with this painting was most likely what Greenberg had in mind when he wrote about the post-painterly rejection of the "doctrine" of Abstract Expressionism. By creating a strikingly simple geometric form and emphasizing more canvas than paint, Noland was definitely moving beyond the visual confines of freeform abstract painting.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art 1870-1970 (1970)

Movement: Color Field Painting

By: Frank Stella

By 1970, Color Field artists like Frank Stella, Kenneth Noland and the late Morris Louis had long established their style as the next phase in modern abstraction. Stella in particular was best known for his Color Field spectrums, in which bands of varying colors were situated in such a way as to render the canvas a three-dimensional field of pure color. What made these paintings unique, and thus a distinctive characteristic of most Color Field work, was the absence of any representation or figurative forms. In Metropolitan Museum of Art 1870-1970, commissioned by the museum for its 100th anniversary, Stella carefully balanced alternating color bands to create a visual plane and framed this plane within a field of primary blue.

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