"What keeps the push/pull from defeating the painting, what keeps it on the surface, is the feeling that the colors move, that they follow the bands, that they have a sense of direction. And it's the directional sense of the color, I think, that holds the surface of the painting" -Frank Stella, 1972
The term Hard Edge was coined in 1959 by West Coast art critic Jules Lagsner, to describe the artwork in his exhibition Four Abstract Classicist at the San Francisco Museum of Art and the Los Angeles County Museum, featuring John McLaughlin, Frederick Hammersley, Lorser Feitelson and Karl Benjamin. Although, as a movement, Hard Edge was around before this, think Josef Albers at Black Mountain College a decade before, this seminal exhibition was considered the true introduction.
This movement seemed to be a departure from the romanticism, gesture and drama that defined Abstract Expressionism. It was a more finite and controlled way of painting, it was not an invitation to explore the depths of the work, but was more of a visual experience that stayed on the surface.
It had some ties to the earlier movement of Color Field painting, but although color played an important role, it was much more defined by design and structure. Hard Edge also drew inspiration from and is directly connected to movements such as Geometric abstraction pioneered by Malevich in the early 20th century, Op Art and Post-painterly Abstraction.
It isn't surprising that for each artist, this style was treated and applied in different ways branching from vision and methods and spoke of the world around them.
For Leon Berkowitz (image above), this style was the answer on how to "organize energy, light energy." To create a sort of unity while still expressing his environment, which always played an important part in his artwork, "...and I tended to do really tall things. There was somehow a compromise between the hardness of the city and the freedom of the nature thing. That you've held in your memory. Carried with me."
For Frederick Hammersley, one of the original "Four," his abstraction came from a hunch. Hammersley would begin with a shape in a color that felt right to him, additional shapes would be added until the painting was complete. "At first I would paint a shape that I would 'see' there. That one coloured shape in the canvas would work, or fit. The next shape would come from the feeling of the first plus the canvas. This process would continue until the last shape completed the picture..I answer the hunch as it comes." He transitioned from his hunch paintings into his geometrics period, as seen in the above example from 1964, which were created from linear compositions and color schemes that would be tried in sketchbooks first. Hammersley did not use tape as some of the other Hard Edge artists did, but instead used a palette knife in a very precise way.
Jay Rosenblum was not only a painter, but also a talented musician. He wouldn't call his work Hard Edge so instead he coined the term, Free Association Color Development to describe his vibrant and expressive color block paintings. Based on his love of Classical music, he felt that a painting should come together similar to a sonata, with various notes falling into a synchronistic compilation to create a sensory experience as a whole.
Vallarino Fine Art is pleased to have so many examples of this movement as well as Geometric abstraction in our inventory. We are always interested in buying similar works as well. Please contact the gallery for pricing or to offer artworks.
Quote from Leon Berkowitz, from the Oral history interview on July 17, 1979 with Julie Haifley, from the Smithsonian Archives of American Art. Full transcript can be found here.
Additional information from The Art Story website, a good general website for movements. In addition to the short interview produced by the Museum of Modern Art, conducted by William Rubin of Frank Stella in 1972, which can be found here and below.
An interesting synopsis of the term Hard Edge from a recent Los Angeles Times article, "LACMA's Abstract Classicism tribute: Just call it 'hard-edge'" written by Christopher Knight on January 22, 2014 can be read here.
Quote from the Frederick Hammersley Foundation from a catalogue essay which can be found here.
FURTHER READING AND WATCHING
WATCH the short film Never Let the Screen Door Slam, by Vanessa Smith, 2010.
READ the New York Times article, Karl Benjamin's Colorful Resurgence written by Jori Finkel, published October 7, 2007.
WATCH this interview from the Museum of Modern Art of Frank Stella - 1972, conducted by William Rubin in 1972
On the day that Robert Motherwell would be celebrating his 102nd birthday, we take a closer look at one of the more incredible undertakings within an indescribably prolific career. The Lyric Suite is a group of colored ink on rice paper works which Motherwell began in 1965. Never working in the medium before, except occasionally as collage material, Motherwell stopped by a Japanese store in April of 1965 intending to purchase a toy for one of his friend's children, but instead saw rice paper called "Dragons and Clouds" and bought one thousand sheets. He decided right then and there that he would paint these without correction, or conscious thought, in a pure experiment of automatism.
From April to May of that year, Motherwell worked on the floor of his studio applying ink in a fast and sweeping motion all while listening to a string quartet's rendition of a movement entitled Lyric Suite, composed by Alban Berg in 1925.
The Lyric Suite was hailed a Masterpiece the first time it was preformed in 1927 at the Baden-Baden Festival. But it turns out there was more to it then what Aaron Copeland said was, "one of the best works written for string quartet in years." Musicologists found that the six part movement was a story of the romantic relationship Berg had with his mistress Hanna Fuchs-Robettin, who was also married at the time. "The piece's serial structure, which had long intrigued music theorists, turned out to be based on their initials, H.F. and A.B. In German nomenclature, those letters denote the pitches B natural, F, A and B flat."
It was when Motherwell finished only a portion of this project, completing 600 separate works on rice paper, that he received a call from the artist Kenneth Noland that his best friend and fellow artist, David Smith was in a terrible automobile accident in Vermont. Motherwell hopped in his Mercedes and drove 110 miles per hour only to miss seeing his closest friend alive by fifteen minutes. After this great loss, the Lyric Suite was boxed up and forgotten about until 1986. Motherwell decided to continue the series and says that, "I half painted them and they half painted themselves."
Vallarino Fine Art is pleased to have this example from Motherwell's Lyric Suite as well as some other important works in our inventory. Please contact the gallery for pricing.
Main image: Untitled, 1986 (Lyric Suite), black and Sepia ink on rice paper, 11 x 9 inches, initialed and dated '86 at upper right, Dedalus Foundation Number D86-3458
Quotes and musical information from "ART; The Secret Love Affair Behind the 'Lyric Suite,'" New York Times, September 21, 2013, written by David Schiff that can be read here
Quotes and information on Robert Motherwell's Lyric Suite comes from his interview from 1970 with the curator of the Art Gallery of Ontario, Dennis Young, which can be listened to below.
Image right: Initial thematic statement of the tone row, mm 2-4.
FURTHER READING & WATCHING
Listen to Robert Motherwell discuss his Lyric Suite with the link above and read the full transcript of the interview here
Listen to the video above to hear the entire Lyric Suite
A self-proclaimed "people's painter," Benny Andrews created powerful narratives that centered around social injustice, drawing inspiration from his childhood in the segregated South. Throughout the 1960's, his collage works became commentaries on the Civil Rights movement:
“For Benny, there was no line where his activism ended and his art began. To him, using his brush and his pen to capture the essence and spirit of his time was as much an act of protest as sitting in or sitting down was for me...”
— John Lewis, Civil Rights leader and congressman
Andrews was one of ten children, and the first of his family to graduate high school. He joined the Army and on the GI Bill, he was able to attend the Art Institute of Chicago - one of the only African Americans enrolled at the time. Putting aside the "sophistication" of oil paint, Andrews opted for the rawness of collage elements. In a folk art style, yet still expressionistic, these collage works are more focused on detail than what is expected from the medium. In addition to everyday materials, Andrews also incorporated burlap sacks into his collages since most of his childhood was spent working the cotton fields with his family.
A CLOSER LOOK
The above artwork entitled Jack J is a portrait of the famous first African American world heavyweight boxing champion, John Arthur "Jack" Johnson. Painted by Benny Andrews in 1970, Johnson's figure is silhouetted against a plain background of whiteness. He stands out boldly in his surroundings; perhaps it was a commentary on having a new black hero in this era of American history. Andrews’ use of collage and painting gives Johnson's figure personality without making him appear crude. The collage elements give the painting physicality, which lends itself to the figure and character of its subject. Johnson proudly and stoically stands upright, gazing out of the painting in a sure and unapologetic manner. The figure dominates most of the foreground, further emphasizing the bold and confident nature of the man depicted. In fact, Johnson was a famous left hand hitter or "southpaw," and Andrews notes this with the weighty, dark, left arm of the boxer taking the foreground of the painting. Similar to a late Rembrandt, the figure's hands are simply suggestions which are brought to life by brushstrokes and color. The translucency and loose painterly nature of the fist prevent the painting from overly focusing on his boxing hand; however, its color and placement in the composition still assert the fist's utmost importance. Juxtaposing the arm and figure this way allows the piece to simultaneous highlight both the character of the man and the legend of his boxing. Andrews’ impressive technical ability and creativity make this a visually engaging piece of art, while his thoughtfulness stages Jack Johnson to be remembered for not just what made him famous, but for who he was.
MAKING A DIFFERENCE
Benny Andrews did not like titles, he wasn't an African American Artist, an Activist Artist or a Protest Artist - he was an Artist. And he believed that in creating art "...if I do it well enough, because it should be done well, then it will last...because it's more than me. It's about something bigger than I am."
He was constantly involved, not only social causes, but also teaching and arts administration. He taught at the City University of New York, Queens College for thirty years, was the director of the visual arts program for the National Endowment of the Arts, as well as creating an art program in the state's prison system that set a national standard still used today.
These paintings and collages help to remind us of the challenges faced by African Americans during this period in American history, and the brave artists who were able to communicate the conflict, discrimination and overall feelings of liberation and empowerment.
Main image: Mr. America, 1967, oil on canvas, 28 x 24 inches
Quote from John Lewis: the foreword to the 2013 exhibition catalogue "Benny Andrews: There Must Be a Heaven" available for purchase here
Additional information found on the Benny Andrews Estate site here in addition to Michael Brenson, "Review/Art; The Collages of Benny Andrews," New York Times, November 4, 1998. read here as well as his obituary also in the New York Times, November 12, 2006, here
Top: The Offering, 1964, oil on canvas, 24 1/2 x 38 1/2 inches, Left: Untitled (Still Life), 1971 oil and collage on canvas, 27 x 24 inches, Right: Flight, 1975, oil and collage on canvas, 18 x 20 inches, Bottom: Landscape, c. 1970s, oil on paper, 13 x 17 1/2 inches
"...Parker shared the Abstract Expressionist belief in painting as possibility and freedom...But Parker was not an Abstract Expressionist. His ambition was not heroic. There are almost no signs of struggle, heaviness and brooding in his work. There is no metaphysical longing. Parker was a formalist in his belief that the medium of painting could determine its message."
It's a difficult task to categorize Ray Parker as an artist. Considered an Abstract Expressionist, a Color Field painter, as well as a Lyrical Abstractionist, Parker's style shifted, changed and evolved over four decades between the early 1950's and into the 1980's. His inspiration came from many different directions. As an art student at the University of Iowa in 1940, it was Cubism, in the 1950's it was from his fellow Abstract Expressionists, Willem de Kooning and Mark Rothko and the improvisational nature of Jazz music. In the 1960's he was pushed by minimalism and the simplicity of Color Field painting. And finally, by the late 1960's into the early 1970's, he turned to conceptual and colorful cut-outs by Henri Matisse. Constantly evolving as an artist, his respect for space, color and form remained throughout his lifetime.
Parker's work from the 1950's illustrates the continuation of his early interest in Cubist form and blocks of color. In this example from 1951 (below), there is a striking combination of both Cubism as well as the refined gesture of the Abstract Expressionists.
He was readily accepted into the New York School and was considered an important member. He was included in "The New Talent" exhibition at MoMA in 1950 as well as the "Annual Exhibtion of Contemporary Painting" at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1952.
The following decade is what Ray Parker became most recognized for, his Simple Paintings - which are anything but. Weighty, dense and monumental, the shapes that make up Parker's Simple Paintings cannot be placed within a period; the rough edges and brushstrokes of Abstraction within the geometric minimalism of Color Field painting makes them undefinable.
Ray Parker's painting process in the 1960's still had it's basis in Abstract Expressionism, he began painting without a preconceived plan or sketch. Tacking raw canvas onto the wall, he would prep it only with a priming coat to maintain the brightness of color. Using a rag dipped in paint, Parker would allow the color to expand to it's fullness of form, using his hand and the material to dictate the final composition.
"...I had made the simple paintings by applying the paint with rags...freed me of the limits and rules I had made for myself for color and field. Now I could make a screwy shape, even a line! Color, yes! Field, yes! Elaborate shapes, lateral movements. changing speeds, multiple rhythms (once more) Yes! Anything, Yes! And withal, these new paintings are simple and direct."
Late 1960's - 1970's
This period was inspired by Matisse's Cut-Outs from his artist book from 1947 entitled, Jazz. Many of us were lucky enough to see this wonderful recent exhibition at MoMA, "Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs" in October 2014, but the last time these works were on view in New York was in 1961. An exhibition, again at the MoMA, "The Last Works of Henri Matisse: Large Cut Gouaches" would have been where Ray Parker would have seen and been inspired by their simple yet lyrical forms and vibrating colors.
Additional Reading and Citations
Quote from Michael Brenson, "Review/Art; Ray Parker's Piece of the Abstract Puzzle," New York Times, September 28, 1990, which can be read here
Ray Parker's painting process and additional information on his Simple Paintings from William C. Agee, Evelyn Kranes Kossak Professor of Art History, Hunter College, New York from the exhibition catalogue, Ray Parker Paintings 1958-1971: Color into Drawing, Haggerty Museum of Art, Marquette University, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 1990, pp. 7-8, which can be read here
Quote by Ray Parker from the above, can also be found in his 1975 statement published in the Catalogue of the American Collection, The Tate Gallery, London, 1978, p. 5.
"It was just the soaring...the gloriousness of the music."
From 1959 - 1962, Lynne Mapp Drexler dove into a lyrical abstraction that was much different from her earlier works - full of movement and color and a synthesis of Post-Impressionist landscape painting and post-war painterly abstraction.
A student of Hans Hofmann, Drexler easily subscribed to Hofmann's ideas of color theory and formal approach, but it was Classical music that really inspired her into abstraction. Although much of her later life was spent year-round out on Monhegan Island (almost unheard of and considered reclusive) during the late 1950s, Drexler found herself in New York City where she would regularly attend concerts at Carnegie Hall. Sketchbook in hand and colored pencils in her purse, she would translate the sounds and the feeling of music to paper. Afterwards, back in her studio, she would paint colorful, musical canvases.
Hans Hofmann had theories about the relationship between color and musical scales, which resonated with the classical music enthusiast Lynne Drexler. Hofmann believed that each color had it's own specific rhythm: "The rhythmatic development of the red scale differs from that of the blue scale or the yellow scale, etc. The development of the color scales spreads over the whole picture surface and its orientation, in relation to the picture surface, is of utmost importance."
From Drexler’s sketch, you can see her seamless interpretation of sound into color. The diagonal lines shoot and radiate outwards, relaying the sense of motion and drama; perhaps a cymbal crash or trumpet blast.
Larger square elements ground you in the piece and prevent the eye from wandering chaotically. The same could be said of the central chords or rhythm of a song. Smaller circles and dots are sprinkled through the canvas like gentle clusters of keystrokes in a musical composition. All of this transposed through Drexler's intimate relationship to color makes her work alive yet harmonious.
Many of our collectors have too picked up on these traits and passionately collect her work. Accomplished pianist, singer, and musician John Legend added a Drexler to his collection in 2015. It is hung behind his piano. We're sure Lynne Drexler would be thrilled to know the connection between her paintings and music lives on.
Vallarino Fine Art in partnership with the McCormick Gallery in Chicago is pleased to have some of these rare examples in our inventory. Please contact the gallery for pricing
Quote from Hans Hofmann: William C. Seitz, Hans Hofmann, Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1963, pg 28.
Additional information interpreted from the video produced by the Monhegan Island Museum, a Roger Amory film, in association with the Pound of Tea Productions © 2008 as well as the introductory essay by Susan Danley in the exhibition catalogue, Lynne Drexler: Early Spring, produced by Vallarino Fine Art and the McCormick Gallery that can be viewed here
Image right: Still from the above mentioned film