Constellation K, 1969
acrylic on two shaped canvases, 47.5 x 23.5 inches overall
Art © The Leon Polk Smith Foundation/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY
Leon Polk Smith was born in 1906 to parents of Cherokee descent in Indian Territory in what is now the state of Oklahoma. The landscape and native arts of his homeland made a lasting impression on him, even as he later traveled throughout the country and abroad to study the vanguard art of his time. In the early 1940s, Smith began painting geometric compositions that owe as much to Indian design motifs as they do to the geometric paintings of Mondrian and other European modernists. The architecture and pace of his adopted city of New York are also embodied in his bold, rhythmic designs.
By the 1960s, Smith’s vibrant paintings had positioned him at the forefront of a new American movement of “hard-edged” abstraction. His work stands apart in its playfulness, as evidenced in shaped canvases such as this, which he often arranged into clusters or “constellations” as he referred to them. Smith’s abstractions animate the surrounding environment, suggesting a bold, colorful world that extends beyond their borders.
The traditional use of somber color was never a part of my environment. I grew up in the Southwest where the colors in nature were pure and rampant and where my Indian neighbors and relatives used color to vibrate and shock in all its intensity with equal rampancy.
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