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Hard-edge Painting Collage

Hard-edge Painting

Started: 1959

Ended: Early 1970s

Hard-edge Painting Timeline

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

KEY ARTISTS

Karl BenjaminKarl Benjamin
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Lorser FeitelsonLorser Feitelson
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Frederick HammersleyFrederick Hammersley
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Ellsworth KellyEllsworth Kelly
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Frank StellaFrank Stella
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Kenneth NolandKenneth Noland
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"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."

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 Ideas

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.

Most Important Art

Hard-edge Painting Famous Art

Opposing #15 (1959)

Artist: Frederick Hammersley
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.
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Hard-edge Painting Artworks in Focus:

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.

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.

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 such as Larry Bell, Helen Lundenberg, and John Coplans.

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Hard-edge Painting Overview Continues

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.


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Content compiled and written by Justin Wolf

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

" Movement Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Justin Wolf
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
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Useful Resources on Hard-edge Painting

Books

Websites

Articles

Videos

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The books and articles below constitute a bibliography of the sources used in the writing of this page. These also suggest some accessible resources for further research, especially ones that can be found and purchased via the internet.
Colourfield Painting: Minimal, Cool, Hard Edge, Serial and Post-Painterly Abstract Art of the Sixties to the Present Recomended resource

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
Discussion of Hard-Edge Painting Within the Context of Late 20th Century Art in California

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

More Interesting Websites about Hard-edge Painting
Frederick Hammersley Dies at 90; acclaimed painter

By Susan Muchnic
The Los Angeles Times
June 6, 2009

Masters of Modernism - The Accidental Modernist

By Steven Biller
Palm Springs Life
February 2009

Birth of the Cool

By Elizabeth Armstrong
Art Ltd
October 2007

Karl Benjamin's Colorful Resurgence

By Jori Finkel
The New York Times
October 7, 2007

More Interesting Articles about Hard-edge Painting

interviews

Interview with Lorser Feitelson

May 12, 1964
Los Angeles, CA
Conducted by Betty Lochrie Hoag

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