Wednesday, July 15, 2015

After Wyndham Lewis

Wyndham Lewis painted "Workshop" between 1914 and 1915, while the First World War was raging and he was at home in England, developing what he called "geometric abstraction" and his friend Ezra Pound labelled "Vorticism". He had looked at Cubism, but found it dead; he had looked at Futurism, but found it formless; somewhere between the two, he thought, was a much better path. The original is in the Tate (click here to see it).

I looked at the painting many times down the years, preferring Lewis' later works - the Tyro paintings, and the gorgeous cherry-red portrait of Froanna, his wife, especially - but also admiring what he had done in the development of abstract painting as an alternative perspective on reality. What bothered me, given what he had said about the Cubists and Futurists, was that his own worked seemed to lack clarity, and not in the vision, but in the execution of the vision. So much of the paint looks as if it's peeling off the canvas (the canvas, not the walls of the workshop, which would be different), so many of the edges are just sloppy, and the narrowness of the range of colour seemed to me another kind of sloppiness. And where was the artist's work, the other canvases, inside this artist's workshop? Whistler's earlier version, "The Artist In His Studio", which must surely have been in Lewis' mind when he painted this, just as Velázquez’s ‘Las Meninas’ was in Whistler's, included several.

This, then, was my response, a work of absolutely no importance whatsoever in the history of Art, but of great significance to me, as it was the first time I had seriously undertaken not just to copy another artist's work in order to learn from it, but to copy it within the framework of my critique, and test the hypothesis. A number of the pictures in this art gallery grew out of this first experiment.

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