Vorticism in the 20th century

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

One of the shortest, yet most influential, British art movements of the 20th century was Vorticism, first established by Wyndham Lewis.

First termed by Ezra Pound in 1913, like many Modern art movements it retreats from Classical notions of order and balance. Though it was concerned with elements from earlier movements, Vorticism depicts modern life in a series of bold lines, jagged, angular geometric figures and harsh colours, which draw the viewer’s eye into the centre of the canvas.

“Vorticism is rooted in an industrial, mechanistic context,” British literature professor Anderson Araujo says. “It’s primarily focused with the presentation of an intellectual and emotional complex in an instant of time.”

Though the style grew out of Cubism, German Expressionism and Italian Futurism, it’s more closely related to Futurism and its embrace of dynamism, mechanization and all things modern.

However, Vorticism diverges from Futurism in the way its forms were largely static, versus Futurism’s fluidity.

According to Araujo, Futurism insisted on the validity for modern art of a resolutely urban and industrial subject matter, the vitality and chaos of which it represented through kaleidoscopic images of movement that sought to display the inner dynamism of the picture. Essentially, Vorticism took on board both Futurism’s concern with an urban, technological modernity and its desire to exploit its latent energy within the pictorial space of the painting.

“Each Vorticist artist had a different approach,” Araujo says. “For example, Pound draws on primative forms where the form is the content.”

Although it emerged as a dominant artistic movement (it even had its own magazine, BLAST) by 1914, it was inevitably snuffed out by the outbreak of the First World War, but remains easily identifiable today.

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