"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