Hard edge abstractions

In the 1960’s there were a series of hard edge schools of abstraction, most notely Op-Art and Color Field. Besides the hard edges, with sharply defined borders, the artwork incorporated flat fields of color within the shapes. The hard edge artwork was an America West Coast style of painting as compared to the gestural form of Abstract Expressionism on the America East coast. For me the current over-the-top ‘hard edge’ contemporary artwork is by Brian Donnelly, aka KAWS, with very flat masses of color within the hard edge borders, below.

Modern photographers, notedly in the 1930’s by the f/64 Group and their followers, utilized a camera lens set at an aperture of f/64 to help ensure that everything captured on the negative was tack sharp, e.g. thus creating a form of hard edge photography (sans flat color masses). Versions of the f/64 photographers still persist today keeping everything within the frame tack sharp, e.g. hard edge. Okay, not everyone, but when I was in process of learning my black & white photographic artistic practice, e.g. Zone system, many years ago it was drilled into me that for nature and urban landscape photographs that these photographs need to be sharp with everything in focus. Although I came to quickly understand that this degree of sharpness was very artistic limiting, the idea of sharpness and hard edges still carries over. When I show my photographic prints to some groups, someone will usually pick at the print as to whether everything is completely in focus or not. What I now affectionally refer to as having the f/64 syndrome.

When I started working on my COVID-19 project Quantum Elements, I found myself wanting to clearly define parts of my subject, specifically the ‘hard edges’ adjacent to the color masses, in a very defined way. That the inside mass of each shape might have softer tonalities and smoother transitions that was more in line with Abstract Expressionism was fine with me.

Case in point is the image above. When blown up, the edges are not all of that ‘hard edge’, but these feel that way to me when I look at this print. So for the past year that has been how I have primarily created the resulting artwork for this series ensuring that the areas within the print were ‘sharp’ (hard edged). I was intrigued by the various ambiguous shapes and initially felt it was necessary to sharply define the edges of these shapes to help ensure that others perceived the same things I did.

One concern for me is that I am not actually a big fan of entirely hard edge artwork, such as that by Donnelly. When I look at my paintings, I note that similar to the artwork above, I have a mix of hard and soft edges with transitional color masses. Maybe incorrectly, I think of the artwork above as having a lot hard edges. I enjoy the messy Abstract Expressionist artwork much more than a pure Hard Edge artwork and I find that the more ambiguous and gestural qualities of Abstract Expressionism creates more poetic qualities and alternative readings.

So I am in the process of re-evaluating some of Quantum Element artworks by softening some of the hard edges, exploring the potential gestural attributes and perhaps reveal more poetic qualities. There will probably be a resulting batch of images that retain the ‘hard edges’ of the image above and some with a revised gestural interpretations. Exciting.

Featured artwork, Quantum Elements LSTa9307 is 24 x 30″ archival pigment on Hahnemuehle Rag Metallic, edition of 5




Exhibition & Workshop

February 20th – March 20th 2021; Photographs’s Eye gallery, Escondido, CA, a solo exhibition of my Memory Pods series (lens-based photography).

March 13-14, 20-21, 2021; Developing Your Creative Photo Book, a workshop that I am leading again in collaboration with Los Angeles Center of Photography (LACP). Workshop dates are March 13 – 14th, and March 20-21st from 9am – noon PST. Four days, two consecutive weekends, a virtual workshop on Zoom, with time between sessions to develop your book dummy. Sign-up here.

Below: Blame-Game VI copyright Brian Donnelly, aka KAWS 2014


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