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Hard Edge painting

The term Hard Edge painting was first used in 1958 by the Los Angeles critic Jules Langsner to describe the abstract canvases of West Coast painters uninterested in the brushy gesturalism of Abstract Expressionism. The following year, the critic Lawrence Alloway applied the term to American paintings with surfaces treated as a single flat unit. The distinction between figure and background was eliminated in favor of the all-over approach pioneered by Jackson Pollock a decade earlier. Unlike Pollock’s free-form compositions, Hard Edge paintings are typically geometric, symmetrical, and limited in palette. Other precursors from the 1950s include Ad Reinhardt, Leon Polk Smith, and Alexander Liberman.

Hard Edge paintings vary from Kenneth Noland’s chevron-patterned compositions to Ellsworth Kelly’s oddly shaped monochrome paintings on canvas or metal. The machine-made look of such works pointed ahead to the three-dimensional “primary structures” of Minimalism. Although the precision and impersonality of Hard Edge painting distinguish it from the spontaneous-looking compositions of Color Field painting, the two styles overlapped, and artists such as Noland worked in both modes.

Extracts from 'Artspeak' by Robert Atkins (copyright (©) 1990, 1997 by Robert Atkins) reproduced by permission of Abbeville Press, Inc.