Ended: Early 1970s
"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."
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.
Most Important Art
Hard-edge Painting Artworks in Focus:
Opposing #15 (1959)
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.Read More ...
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.
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.
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 such as Larry Bell, Helen Lundenberg, and John Coplans.
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, Miriam Schapiro, George Ortman, Paul Brach, 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.
Useful Resources on Hard-edge Painting
| Colourfield Painting: Minimal, Cool, Hard Edge, Serial and Post-Painterly Abstract Art of the Sixties to the Present |
By Stuart Morris
| Lorser Feitelson and the Invention of Hard Edge Painting, 1945-1965 |
By Lorser Feitelson
| Visual puns and hard-edge poems: Works by Frederick Hammersley |
By Joseph Traugott
| Pacific Standard Time: Los Angeles Art, 1945-1980 |
By Rebecca Peabody, Andrew Perchuk, Glenn Phillips, Rani Singh, Lucy Bradnock
| John McLaughlin (1898-1976) - Minimalist Painter |
Artist Biography and Chronology
| Lorser Feitelson (1898-1978) |
Includes Biography of the Artist and Images of Work
| The Frederick Hammersley Foundation |
Includes Biography of the Artist and Images of His Work
| Karl Benjamin |
Includes Biography of the Artist and Images of His Work
| Karl Benjamin: Paintings from 1950-1965 |
Catalogue for 2004 Exhibition at Louis Stern Fine Arts
| Guggenheim - Hard-Edge Painting |
Brief Description of the Hard-Edge Movement and Analyses of Works from the Guggenheim Collection
| Frederick Hammersley Dies at 90; acclaimed painter |
By Susan Muchnic
| Masters of Modernism - The Accidental Modernist |
By Steven Biller
| Birth of the Cool |
By Elizabeth Armstrong
| Karl Benjamin's Colorful Resurgence |
By Jori Finkel
| Art Review: 'Colorforms': An Old-Fashioned Salute |
By Suzanne Muchnic
| Interview with Lorser Feitelson |
May 12, 1964