Hard-edge Painting Movement and Chronology

"Abstract Classicist painting is hard-edged painting. Forms are finite, flat, rimmed by a hard, clean edge. These forms are not intended to evoke in the spectator any recollections of specific shapes he may have encountered in some other connection. They are autonomous shapes, sufficient unto themselves as shapes."

Jules Langsner

Synopsis

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 Points

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.
comment to editor

Beginnings

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.

Langsner coined the term "hard edge colorforms" to describe the paintings on display and, more generally, the new style of color field painting that was becoming popular in California. He believed it recalled the geometric abstraction of Piet Mondrian, Josef Albers, Ad Reinhardt and others. After LACMA, the show traveled to England and Ireland, at which time British art critic Lawrence Alloway subtitled the show California Hard-edge.

MORE

Concepts and Styles

Although the four artists included in Langsner's show were very different, they were united by their use of clean, lucid composition, intense color, and lack of surface incident. They were also influenced by the sense of "wholism," or single, unitary composition, seen in the work of Barnett Newman and other color field painters. Hard-edge abstraction differed greatly from its popular predecessor, action painting, in that the artists applied their paints very carefully and sought to avoid any suggestion of spirituality or soulful expression. Frank Stella is typical of those who might be described as hard-edge painters, and who sought to avoid the high-flown drama of action painting - like him, most felt that, by the mid 1950s, gestural abstraction becoming a manner that was being copied by legions of less talented followers, all of whom were pretending the anguish and existential insight.

Many of the hard-edge painters also differed greatly from more traditional color field painters, because although their work employed color as one of its principle components, they were more preoccupied with design and structure. In fact, even though Kenneth Noland had been a student of Josef Albers, who famously espoused the "interaction of color," he and others like him often tended to employ colors that failed to relate in the way Albers envisaged. Frederick Hammersley's Opposing #15 (1959) is typical of this strategy, since it uses contrasting primaries.

comment to editor

Later Developments

In 1964 Langsner curated another exhibition, this time at the Pavilion Gallery (otherwise known as the Newport Pavilion) in Newport Beach, CA. Combining his original term with the subtitle assigned by Alloway, Langsner called this exhibition California Hard-Edge Painting. Included in the show were the original four from Four Abstract Classicists (1959), along with artists Larry Bell, Helen Lundenberg, John Coplans and several others.

But this should not suggest that the term "hard-edge" was therefore an established reference point for years to come; it had to compete with several others that attempted to describe similar work in the period, including "One-Image painting," and "Systemic painting." Some curators therefore tried to avoid descriptive labels entirely, and in 1963 an exhibition entitled Second-Generation Abstraction was held at the Jewish Museum in New York. The show consisted of 47 works by nine artists: Al Held, Ellsworth Kelly, Frank Stella, Morris Louis, Kenneth Noland, George Ortman, Paul Brach, Miriam Schapiro and Raymond Parker. It was significant for its introduction of New York-based artists into the hard-edge school of abstract painting. Up to this point, the tendency was only associated with those California artists who were widely considered rebels from the New York School.

Although the term "hard-edge" is helpful in describing the tendencies of the late 1960s, it had barely been launched before artists were also moving in new directions, and it fell from use as abstract painting explored new problems in the 1970s.



Original content written by Justin Wolf
comment to editor

QUOTES

"The form of my painting is the content."
- Ellsworth Kelly

"A picture is a flat surface with paint on it - nothing more."
- Frank Stella

"Even my most recent paintings, my abstract paintings, essentially are dealing with instability of color, instability of line, to make the things move psychologically."
- Lorser Feitelson

"The structure making is of prime importance. Until this is right nothing further can be done. After the picture works in line the shapes become colors. I answer the hunch as it comes."
- Frederick Hammersley

"Abstract Classicist painting is hard-edged painting. Forms are finite, flat, rimmed by a hard, clean edge. These forms are not intended to evoke in the spectator any recollections of specific shapes he may have encountered in some other connection. They are autonomous shapes, sufficient unto themselves as shapes."
- Jules Langsner

LEAVE A COMMENT OR SUGGESTION BELOW

We will address your comment shortly.
Error occured while saving commment. Please, try later.
Currently, no information is available for this item. Please visit this page in the future as we are expanding quickly.
Post-Painterly Abstraction
Post-Painterly Abstraction
Post-painterly abstraction was a term developed by critic Clement Greenberg in 1964 to describe a diverse range of abstract painters who rejected the gestural styles of the Abstract Expressionists and favored instead what he called "openness or clarity." Painters as different as Ellsworth Kelly and Helen Frankenthaler were described by the term. Some employed geometric form, others veils of stained color.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Post-Painterly Abstraction
Color Field Painting
Color Field Painting
A tendency within Abstract Expressionism, distinct from gestural abstraction, color field painting was developed by Barnett Newman, Mark Rothko, and Clyfford Still in the late 1940s, and developed further by Helen Frankenthaler and others. It is characterized by large fields of color and an absence of any figurative motifs, and often expresses a yearning for transcendence and the infinite.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Color Field Painting
Willem De Kooning
Willem De Kooning
Willem de Kooning, a Dutch immigrant to New York, was one of the foremost Abstract Expressionist painters. His abstract compositions drew on Surrealist and figurative traditions, and typified the expressionistic 'gestural' style of the New York School.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Willem De Kooning
Barnett Newman
Barnett Newman
Barnett Newman was an Abstract Expressonist painter in New York who painted large-scale fields of solid color, interrupted by vertical lines or "zips." His sometimes narrow or boxy canvases, part painting and part sculpture, were influential for Minimalism.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Barnett Newman
Karl Benjamin
Karl Benjamin
Karl Benjamin is an American abstract painter and was one of the four founders of the Los Angeles Abstract Classicists. Perhaps more so than any of his three "California Hard-Edge" contemporaries, Benjamin's paintings exemplified the aura of "cool" in mid-century California.

Modern Art Information Karl Benjamin
John McLaughlin
John McLaughlin
John McLaughlin was an American Minimalist painter and one of the four founders of the Los Angeles Abstract Classicists. McLaughlin's hard-edge compositions are derivitive of Constructivists like Malevich, but employ more of a symmetry and balance of colors that were emblematic of 1950s and 1960s California "cool."

Modern Art Information John McLaughlin
Frederick Hammersley
Frederick Hammersley
Frederick Hammersley was an American abstract painter and one of the four founders of the Los Angeles Abstract Classicists, a group of artists who in 1959 unveiled their "California Hard-Edge" paintings. Hammersley's work was noted for its sleek color and spatial relations of hard-edged, geometric shapes.

Modern Art Information Frederick Hammersley
Lorser Feitelson
Lorser Feitelson
Lorser Feitelson was an American artist based in California during the mid-twentieth century. He was a member of a small group of abstract painters who critic Jules Langsner dubbed "California hard-edge." With that, Feitelson became one of the first artists associated with hard-edge painting.

Modern Art Information Lorser Feitelson
Abstract Expressionism
Abstract Expressionism
A tendency among New York painters of the late 1940s and '50s, all of whom were committed to an expressive art of profound emotion and universal themes. The movement embraced the gestural abstraction of Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock, and the color field painting of Mark Rothko and others. It blended elements of Surrealism and abstract art in an effort to create a new style fitted to the postwar mood of anxiety and trauma.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Abstract Expressionism
Piet Mondrian
Piet Mondrian
Piet Mondrian, a founding member of the De Stijl movement, was a modern Dutch artist who used grids, perpendicular lines, and the three primary colors in what he deemed Neoplasticism.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Piet Mondrian
Josef Albers
Josef Albers
Josef Albers was a German-born American painter and teacher. Celebrated as a geometric abstractionist and influential instructor at Black Mountain College, Albers directly influenced such artists as Robert Rauschenberg, Cy Twombly and Ray Johnson.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Josef Albers
Ad Reinhardt
Ad Reinhardt
Ad Reinhardt was an American abstract artist whose monochromatic canvases show side-by-side rectangles painted in subtle variations of the same color. Very much part of the New York scene in the 1940s, he nonetheless scorned the label and gestural ethos of Abstract Expressionism.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Ad Reinhardt
Frank Stella
Frank Stella
Frank Stella is an American artist whose geometric paintings and shaped canvases underscore the idea of the painting as object. A major influence on Minimalism, his iconic works include nested black and white stripes and concentric, angular half-circles in bright colors.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Frank Stella
Kenneth Noland
Kenneth Noland
Kenneth Noland was an American painter who helped pioneer the Color-field painting movement in the 1960s. His most famous works consist of circular ripples of paint poured directly onto the canvas.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Kenneth Noland
Currently, no information is available for this item. Please visit this page in the future as we are expanding quickly.
Currently, no information is available for this item. Please visit this page in the future as we are expanding quickly.
Currently, no information is available for this item. Please visit this page in the future as we are expanding quickly.
Al Held
Al Held
Al Held was an American painter and a leading figure in the second generation of Abstract Expressionists. Held's paintings are considered to be in the style of 'Hard-Edge' and 'Post-painterly abstraction.' Held achieved both acclaim and criticism for his experiments with black and white imagery, or what he called "spatial conundrums."

Modern Art Information Al Held
Ellsworth Kelly
Ellsworth Kelly
Ellsworth Kelly is an American color-field and Hard edge painter. Kelly got his start in the late 1950s with showings at the Betty Parsons Gallery and the Whitney Museum. His work often consists of shaped canvases, simple geometric shapes, and large panels of uniform color.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Ellsworth Kelly
Morris Louis
Morris Louis
Morris Louis was an American painter and an original member of the so-called Washington Color School. Along with Noland, Frankenthaler and others, Louis pioneered the color-field school of painting, using a technique of soaking heavy oil paints into unprimed canvases. Louis's paintings in part inspired his friend Clement Greenberg to dub the second-generation Abstract Expressionism artists Post-painterly abstraction.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Morris Louis
Currently, no information is available for this item. Please visit this page in the future as we are expanding quickly.
Currently, no information is available for this item. Please visit this page in the future as we are expanding quickly.
Miriam Schapiro
Miriam Schapiro
Miriam Schapiro is a Canadian-American artist and a leading figure in the feminist art movement. Often tied to the 1970s era Pattern and Decoration movement, Schapiro began her career working alongside second-generation Abstract Expressionists in New York, followed by forays into hard-edge painting. She is perhaps best known for co-founding, along with colleague Judy Chicago, the Feminist Art Program at the California Institute for the Arts.

Modern Art Information Miriam Schapiro
Currently, no information is available for this item. Please visit this page in the future as we are expanding quickly.
Black Pillars
Black Pillars

Title: Black Pillars (1957)

Artist: Karl Benjamin

Artwork Description & Analysis: 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.


Oil on canvas - Private collection

Opposing #15
Opposing #15

Title: Opposing #15 (1959)

Artist: Frederick Hammersley

Artwork Description & Analysis: 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.


Oil on linen - Collection of Jayne and Mark Murrel, Newport Beach, CA

Dichotomic Organization
Dichotomic Organization

Title: Dichotomic Organization (1959)

Artist: Lorser Feitelson

Artwork Description & Analysis: 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.


Oil on canvas - Nora Eccles Harrison Museum of Art, Logan, Utah

Y-1957
Y-1957

Title: Y-1957 (1957)

Artist: John McLaughlin

Artwork Description & Analysis: Although generally hard to gauge, McLaughlin may be the least well known of the four abstract classicists, or California hard-edge painters. While having no signature style of his own, McLaughlin was a master colorist and composer of minimalist nonobjective paintings. His Y-1957 was among the early hard-edge works (although the term "hard-edge" has yet to be coined) that caught the attention of Langsner and prompted him to gather like-minded artists in an effort to highlight this new phase in West coast-based abstract painting. This simple stripe painting not only subtly played with the fundamentals of visual symmetry, but also predated the more well-known stripe paintings of Kenneth Noland.


Oil on canvas - Gary Snyder Fine Art, New York

Hyena Stomp
Hyena Stomp

Title: Hyena Stomp (1962)

Artist: Frank Stella

Artwork Description & Analysis: Stella was among the New York-based hard-edge painters who caught the attention of Jewish Museum director Alan Solomon, who would later curate the well-received Second-Generation Abstraction in 1963. Hyena Stomp is typical of his move towards color after his famous emergence with the Black Paintings. It balances four converging forms to suggest a complex prism of color; upon closer inspection one notices that the painting is completely asymmetrical.


Oil on canvas - Tate Gallery, London

Untitled
Untitled

Title: Untitled (1969)

Artist: Robert Irwin

Artwork Description & Analysis: Robert Irwin was not associated with the original group of California hard-edge painters, but the breadth of his early work indicates a loose kinship with their stunningly simple compositions. Irwin's disc series, which includes the above untitled work, played with subtle degrees of light and perspective. What he achieved with these works was to take the components of hard-edge and post-painterly (art composed of basic shapes, colors, lines and geometric forms) and re-interpret them within a three-dimensional space. Untitled also took the tenets of Color Field painting, wherein colors interact and cover an entire space, and re-interpreted it so that people were now interacting with the shapes, lines, and form of the artwork itself.


Acrylic lacquer on formed acrylic plastic disc - Collection of the artist

Bibliography
The books and articles below constitute a bibliography of the sources used in the writing this page. These also suggests some accessible resources for further research, especially ones that can be found and purchased via the internet.