Leon Polk Smith

Leon Polk Smith in the Arithmeum

Leon Polk Smith (1906-1996) was drawn to geometric con- structivist art by the Red Indian attitude to life and nature of his forbears. At the age of thirty he spontaneously decided to become an artist. Deep inside himself, he had always been an artist, though he had never, up to then, had a chance to be artistically creative. After initial realistic attempts, he soon turned to neo-plasticism and began, in particular, to study Mondrian’s compositions. We note that, at this early stage, he already often made use of the tondo (a disk-shaped base), on which he painted his geometric lines and shapes in black and white.

A turning point in his work was, in his own words, brought about by the conscious study of pictures of balls in a sports-shop catalogue. The typical lines on a basketball or tennisball, for example, yield unusual diagrams when represented two-dimensionally. His first experiments in this direction still reveal their origin. But with his departure from the clear round form, he began to develop a completely new pictorial world. He formed edges by abutting two colored areas which dominate the entire surface. Any curvature or change in direction in these edges imparts tension to the composition.

A variant of this playing with lines also appears in his „torn drawings“: tears in colored paper constitute edges and convey the artist’s concept in a maximally reduced form. Leon Polk Smith is considered to be one of the founders of Hard Edge Art, which is characterized by just two colours on the canvas meeting in a sharply delineated edge. Colour and form thus constitute an indivisible unit. In his later „constellations„, he takes this principle one step further by including the surroundings of the picture in his composition. A continuous line extends over several individual pictures of diffe- rent shapes and sizes, surmounting the gaps between them and uniting them into one whole. These compositions, which are based on the polarity between two monochrome colour fields, draw attent- ion to the contrast and hard separation between the two areas, while at the same time highlighting the interdependence of form and colour. In this way they convey a natural, harmonious unity, as it exists in the Universe. Leon Polk Smith, who had acquired his nature-conscious and holistic attitude from the Chickasaw Indians, has always tried to reach the viewer emotionally and intellectually in his individual way with clear compositional principles. His pictures point beyond himself, they are part of a universal idea.

We extend our sincere thanks to those who have lent us works of Leon Polk Smith: Brooklyn Museum of Art, New York

Bob Jamieson and the Leon Polk Smith Foundation Joan T. Washburn Gallery, New York

Galerie Adelheid Hoffmann, Friedberg

Art-Kite-Museum, Detmold

Allianz Versicherung, Berlin