Artworks and Artists of Synchromism
Synchromy in Orange: To Form (1913-1914)
This large canvas, about eleven feet square, with a frame painted by the artist that both contains the painting and lets the painting spill into the space around it, has been described as Russell's greatest work. The planes of saturated colors that curve and fold have a remarkable density and three-dimensional effect. The green and red triangles on the upper left seem to buckle with intensity, weighing on the yellow, green, and white irregular geometric shapes in the center. A dynamic stacking of various planes creates a sense of unfurling while being simultaneously energetically contained.
Russell used his sculptural study of Michelangelo's the Dying Slave as the foundation for this work, as he evolved his abstract composition. As he said, "I always felt the need to impose on color the same violent twists and spirals that Rubens and Michelangelo imposed on the human body." When shown at the Salon des Indépendants, the work was titled Synchromie en orange: la création de l'homme conçue comme le résultat d'une force génératrice naturelle (Synchromy in Orange: the creation of man conceived as a result of a natural generative force). The artist meant the work to be a tour de force of the Syncrhomist style as well as a response to the large abstract Orphist paintings of the Delaunays and Franz Kupka.
Oil on canvas - Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York
Day of Good Fortune (1914)
This painting, depicting two dancing, nude women, shows Davies bringing a Synchromist treatment to his characteristic figurative work. The woman on the left, rendered primarily in tones of white, her arms over her head, bends forward gracefully, while on the right, another woman, a kaleidoscope of color, lifts her left leg and arches her arms above her head. Depicted in variously colored geometric shapes, the women become closer to abstracted figures of movement, flowing into the shapes that extend and swirl around them like the music that attends them. The black background, suggesting the backdrop of a stage, creates a sense of space through which the music swirls, embodied in the movements of the dancers and extending out of the pictorial frame.
Davies, already well-known for his somewhat lyrical and Symbolist figurative work that had a fundamentally decorative effect, was equally interested in more avant-garde art. He helped to organize the 1913 Armory Show that introduced European avant-garde work to the American art world, and his subsequent explorations of other styles, including Cubism, show the impact the show had on his own work. Both Russell and Macdonald-Wright attempted Synchromist figurative work, as seen in Macdonald-Wright's self-portrait, though not as successively as Davies does here.
Oil on canvas - Whitney Museum of Art, New York, New York
The title of this work, assigned by its first owner the writer H. L. Mencken, suggests that the painting is illustrative, but in fact it was meant to be entirely abstract. Using a vibrant color scheme, the painting depicts a number of variously colored circular shapes radiating from its center, as larger varied geometric forms, predominantly blue, green, purple and yellow curve around it. Crescents of more intense color on the circles draw the viewer's eye up along the center right as if following a kind of implicit J shape.
Benton's painting, influenced by MacDonald-Wright's circular forms in Conception Synchromy (1914), exudes a sense of vibrant rhythm. A visual syncopated din and bustle is created by the juxtaposition of curvilinear shapes and angular geometric forms. The viewer's eye moves through the canvas, following the complex movement of color as one might hear the interplay of different instruments in a musical piece. Benton had a lifelong interest in music, and part of the effect of this work is based upon his understanding of how sound works. Created in waves, different notes bounce off one another, and the aural quality is changed.
Close friends with Macdonald-Wright, Benton tried Synchromism for a time and exhibited this painting at the Forum Exhibition in 1916, but, more importantly, he shared with Russell a profound interest in sculpture, saying, "Following the Synchromist practice at the time, I based the composition of these pictures on Michelangelo's sculpture." The implicit J shape, creating a sense of both physical movement and pictorial unity, and the emphasis upon the color triad of red, yellow, and blue, were derived from studying the Renaissance master's work. While Benton abandoned Synchromism, feeling dissatisfied with the results, the rhythm and vibrant color used in this work became noted elements in the American regionalist work for which he became famous.
Oil on canvas - Baltimore Museum of Art, Baltimore, Maryland
Interlocking shapes in primarily green, blue, and yellow tones suggest an extemporaneous feeling. The intersection of the yellow vertical and horizontal shapes in the center gesture energetically outwards toward greyish violet and green curved blades in the bottom third of the painting and toward lighter blue curves above. Dasburg's title, Improvisation, recalls the titles of Kandinsky's early abstract paintings that he likened to music. Dasburg later explained his "improvisations" to an interviewer, "You invented what you were doing. In other words, an invention of your own and not a replica, something you had seen, any recognizable things, but independent of an object...."
Andrew Dasburg was a close friend of Morgan Russell, and this painting may have been one of the nine paintings he showed in The Forum Exhibition of Modern American Painters in 1916. Most of Dasburg's work during this period has been lost or destroyed, and he later became best known for his landscapes of New Mexico, where he subsequently resided. His interest in landscape can already be seen in this work's color palette, as the darker greens that dominate the foreground contrasted with the brighter blues at the top create a horizon effect. His use of geometric shapes, many of them curved or resembling the blades or stalks of vegetation, suggest an organic energy out of which the center yellow seems to spring, almost like a figure raising its arms.
Oil on canvas - Private Collection
Breakfast Table (1917)
Davis depicts a table as seen from above. A circle dominates the lower two thirds of the painting, and a pitcher, not depicted on the table, floats above it, occupying the top of the canvas. Here, Davis explores Synchromism's dynamic irregular geometric shapes, jostling with vibrant color, combined with the grid of Cubist shallow space.
Following the 1913 Armory Show, Davis experimented with a number of avant-garde movements, including Cubism, Orphism, Futurism, Synchronism. Though the influence of Cubism is also apparent in the breaking up of forms, the emphasis on bold and vibrant colors that pulsate suggest the bright liveliness and cacophony of morning. Davis had a deep interest in popular culture and in jazz music and later became well known for his unique Cubist style that juxtaposed angular planes to mimic the rhythm and dissonance of jazz.
Oil on canvas - Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas
Synchromy in Blue (c. 1917-18)
This work uses geometric planes of varying shades of green and blue, layered with curvilinear planes of pink and red, occasionally punctuated by areas of yellow and white. Two primarily white triangles intersect the painting from left and right in the upper third, meeting a center triangle, its apex extending beyond the canvas' surface. Macdonald-Wright creates a sense of depth in the work by layering the planes of color, and as a result, the painting has a feeling of solidity and gravity. Color becomes more tactile and physical in Macdonald-Wright's composition.
While the painting is non-representational in overall effect, one can make out the shape of a seated male figure, with his knee bulging to the left, and his back and shoulder on the right. This is yet another reference to the sculptural qualities of the much older art of Michelangelo.
Oil on canvas - Museum of Modern Art, New York, New York
Color Form Sychromy (Eidos) (1922-23)
This painting focuses on an abstract form made up of irregular shapes of color that create a spinning motion in the center of the canvas. The spiraling form in the center is surrounded by areas of black that create a sense of space, and the effect is as if the form were opening up into the top part of the canvas. The lower left corner of the canvas consists of small, interlocking shapes of color, primarily somber-hued red and green.This work shows Russell both following and expanding upon his own painterly dicta, as he said, "Forget the linear outline of objects (...) never will you arrive at expression in painting until the habit is lost - ignore borders - profiles except when light renders them prominent - make little spectrums that is all - an order of little spectrums."
Russell returned to his Synchromist style in 1922 after recovering from a period of difficulty and depression. In the Eidos paintings, any sense of a figurative basis disappears, and the works emphasize a spinning space, rather than the spiraling motion of his earlier Synchromist work. The artist hoped to display the works with the use of a kinetic light machine to suggest the lingering effects of fireworks in the room.
Oil on canvas - Museum of Modern Art, New York, New York