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Leon Polk Smith

Hard-edge Painting, Post-painterly Abstraction

August 26, 2013

Leon Polk Smith was an American artist born in 1906. His geometrically oriented abstract paintings were influenced by Piet Mondrian and his style has been associated with the Hard-edge school, of which he is considered one of the founders.

Born near Chickasha, Oklahoma, Smith attended Oklahoma State College in Ada, Oklahoma and later the Columbia University Teacher's School. During his first semester at Columbia, one of his teachers took him to see the Gallatin Collection, then at New York University, an experience that sparked his artistic development. The paintings of Mondrian and sculpture by Constantin Brâncuși and Jean Arp served as a formative experience for him.

Smith first rose to prominence in the late 1950s with a body of work titled the Correspondences, characterized by distinctively shaped canvases that typically consist of two vibrantly-colored painted shapes defined by a precise but often irregular contour. The key motifs in his works were inspired by baseballs and tennis balls, attempting to create a new kind of space from these simple shapes. Introducing this single curving line, Smith created two pictorial spaces, allowing for the interchangeability of positive and negative space. He continued to explore the potential of the curvilinear shape throughout his career, advancing the formal and rational elements of the Modernist tradition.