Summary of Hard-edge Painting
Hard-edge painting is a tendency in late 1950s and 1960s art that is closely related to Post-painterly abstraction and Color Field Painting. It describes an abstract style that combines the clear composition of geometric abstraction with the intense color and bold, unitary forms of Color Field Painting. Although it was first identified with Californian artists, today the phrase is used to describe one of the most distinctive tendencies in abstract painting throughout the United States in the 1960s.
Key Ideas & Accomplishments
- Hard-edge abstraction was part of a general tendency to move away from the expressive qualities of gestural abstraction. Many painters also sought to avoid the shallow, post-Cubist space of Willem de Kooning's work, and instead adopted the open fields of color seen in the work of Barnett Newman.
- Hard-edge painting is known for its economy of form, fullness of color, impersonal execution, and smooth surface planes.
- The term "hard-edge abstraction" was devised by Californian art critic Jules Langsner, and was initially intended to title a 1959 exhibition that included four West Coast artists - Karl Benjamin, John McLaughlin, Frederick Hammersley and Lorser Feitelson. Although, later, the style was often referred to as "California hard-edge," and these four artists became synonymous with the movement, Langsner eventually decided to title the show Four Abstract Classicists (1959), as he felt that the style marked a classical turn away from the romanticism of Abstract Expressionism.
Overview of Hard-edge Painting
In the late 1950s, the Californian art critic, poet and psychiatrist Jules Langsner began to observe an emerging trend in abstract art that stemmed from Color Field Painting, yet tended to employ clean lines and contrasting hues. He chose to highlight this by staging an exhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, in 1959, which included artists Frederick Hammersley, Karl Benjamin, John McLaughlin and Lorser Feitelson. It was titled Four Abstract Classicists.
Important Art and Artists of Hard-edge Painting
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.
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.
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.
Useful Resources on Hard-edge Painting
- Colourfield Painting: Minimal, Cool, Hard Edge, Serial and Post-Painterly Abstract Art of the Sixties to the PresentOur PickBy Stuart Morris
- Lorser Feitelson and the Invention of Hard Edge Painting, 1945-1965By Lorser Feitelson
- Visual puns and hard-edge poems: Works by Frederick HammersleyBy Joseph Traugott
- Pacific Standard Time: Los Angeles Art, 1945-1980By Rebecca Peabody, Andrew Perchuk, Glenn Phillips, Rani Singh, Lucy Bradnock / Discussion of Hard-Edge Painting Within the Context of Late 20th Century Art in California
- John McLaughlin (1898-1976) - Minimalist PainterArtist Biography and Chronology
- Lorser Feitelson (1898-1978)Includes Biography of the Artist and Images of Work
- The Frederick Hammersley FoundationIncludes Biography of the Artist and Images of His Work
- Karl BenjaminIncludes Biography of the Artist and Images of His Work
- Karl Benjamin: Paintings from 1950-1965Catalogue for 2004 Exhibition at Louis Stern Fine Arts
- Guggenheim - Hard-Edge PaintingOur PickBrief Description of the Hard-Edge Movement and Analyses of Works from the Guggenheim Collection
- Frederick Hammersley Dies at 90; acclaimed painterBy Susan Muchnic / The Los Angeles Times / June 6, 2009
- Masters of Modernism - The Accidental ModernistBy Steven Biller / Palm Springs Life / February 2009
- Birth of the CoolBy Elizabeth Armstrong / Art Ltd / October 2007
- Karl Benjamin's Colorful ResurgenceBy Jori Finkel / The New York Times / October 7, 2007
- Art Review: 'Colorforms': An Old-Fashioned SaluteOur PickBy Suzanne Muchnic / The Los Angeles Times / June 3, 1985