Wednesday, September 17, 2008
Olle Baertling (1911-1981)
Silkscreen of 1964 after a painting of 1961
From the moment Kazimir Malevich, just before the Russian Revolution, revolutionised art itself with his painting Black Square, the story of art has been bound up with the search for ways in which to communicate human emotions, ideas, and beliefs, in terms of pure line, geometry, and colour planes. Malevich’s new abstract art was called by him Suprematism, though it is more usually known to us by a name Malevich himself introduced as a term of abuse, Constructivism. It is concerned with “The world as non-objectivity”, as the title of Malevich’s treatise of 1926 put it.
Silkscreen of 1964 after a painting of 1956
Abstract art so quickly swallowed up critical attention that whole areas of figurative art still remain unexplored. Women artists, for instance, barely had time to get accepted before it was unacceptable for them to explore pictorially the female domestic world. Even an artist as devoted to the everyday beauties of the home as Winifred Nicholson found herself painting constructivist abstracts in the 1930s, under the influence of her friend Piet Mondrian and the artists of the group Abstraction-Création.
Hans Arp (1886-1966)
Placé selon les lois de hazard
Silkscreen of 1964 after a painting (or collage?) of 1951
I’ve been tipped into thinking about the geometry of feeling by a new acquisition, the catalogue to an important group exhibition at the Galerie Denise René, Paris, in 1964. The title of both catalogue and exhibition is Hard-edge.
Richard Paul Lohse (1902-1988)
Farbenenergien in vier richtungen
Silkscreen of 1964 after a painting of 1950
As Josef Albers writes in his written contribution:
so far a suspected noun
of fashionable art terminology
but changing fast to an adjective
and thus on the way
to signal something more.
Josef Albers (1888-1976)
Homage to the square
Silkscreen of 1964 after a painting of 1963
The exhibition gathered work by nine artists: Albers, Hans (Jean) Arp, Olle Baertling, Auguste Herbin, Alexander Liberman, Richard Paul Lohse, Richard Mortensen, Sophie Taeuber-Arp, and Victor Vasarely.
Richard Mortensen (1910-1933)
Silkscreen of 1964 after a painting of 1964
The catalogue contains statements by each of them (apart from Sophie Tauber-Arp, who died in 1943, who is given a heartfelt memorial by her widower, Hans). Hans Arp dates Sophie’s first pure abstract works to 1915 and 1916, subtly arguing for her as co-creator with Malevich and Kandinsky of the non-objective world. “Already in 1916 Sophie Taeuber was dividing the surface of her watercolours in squares and rectangles which she juxtaposed horizontally and vertically.”
Sophie Taeuber-Arp (1889-1943)
Silkscreen (by Hans Arp?) of 1964 after a painting of 1934
The catalogue also contains nine silkscreen prints (or serigraphs), one by each artist. The one by Taeuber-Arp is after a work from 1934; it was presumably supervised, or executed, by Hans Arp, though no details are given for this or the other works.
Looking at the sheer visual richness of these nine silkscreens got me thinking about the way that abstract art managed both to insist that everything that was happening on the picture plane only existed in two dimensions, and simultaneously that the picture plane was a window into a previously unrealised dimension (what Malevich himself called "the fourth dimension"). As Lawrence Alloway writes in his brief introduction to the cataloque, in hard-edge painting, “What you see is precisely what there is. Yet what you see is usually optically ambiguous. Positive and negative forms interact as shapes in hard-edge, united in a single plane.”
Auguste Herbin (1882-1960)
Silkscreen of 1964 after a painting of 1960
I love this kind of work. Mondrian, Albers, Ellsworth Kelly, and Sean Scully are among my favourite artists. But I haven’t gone out of my way to collect abstract prints, and within my abstract holdings there are more exuberantly expressionist works by artists such as Walasse Ting or Sam Francis than there are severely geometric ones. Yet the provocative simplicities of the hard-edge silkscreens remind me how potent such work can be. As Alexander Liberman writes in the catalogue, “In order for sensation to act upon us with the greatest intensity we have to cleanse our minds of the accumulated deposits of art memories. A painting should by its apparent simplicity act with such immediacy that the innermost centers of the mind can be reached without hesitation and time for reference to our memory or doubt centers.”
Alexander Liberman (1912-1999)
Silkscreen of 1964 after a painting of 1962
Much of my other work in this vein comes from a single source, the book Témoignages pour l’art abstrait (Testimonies for Abstract Art), published in 1952 in an edition of 1500 copies. In this, major artists of the day put forward their theories of abstraction, and each contributed an original pochoir plate, the pochoir colours being stencilled by Renson. Among the artists were Arp, Herbin, Mortensen, and Vasarely, overlapping with Hard-edge, but also Bloc, Dewasne, Deyrolles, Dias, Domela, Pillet, Reth, and many others. A few related images from this work follow, without any attempt at description.
André Bloc (1896-1966)
Jean Dewasne (1921-1999)
Cícero Dias (1908-2003)
Non (Témoignage XV)
Albert Magnelli (1888-1971)
Edgard Pillet (1912-1996)
Alfred Reth (1884-1966)