The power in the art of Brancusi and Mondrian would have an early and profound effect on Leon Polk Smith who would become one of the leading American non-objective color-field precisionists. Smith’s success lies in his ability to have created works which have a simple, hard-edge, colorful presence; “a divergence from the seriousness of Minimalism by virtue that they can be hung in variable arrangements, or viewed from a variety of perspectives” (Ratcliff, 1996). His strongest examples of these artistic tenets can be found in his Constellation Series, begun in 1967.
Native American born artist Leon Polk Smith came to New York City, at 30 years of age, in 1936 to study at Columbia University's Teachers' College. The young artist began his career depicting subjects inspired by life in Oklahoma and New York in an amalgam of Surrealist and Expressionist styles. The power of Brancusi and Mondrian's art was ultimately irresistible to Smith and in 1945 he began to explore the formal problems inherent in the creation of non-objective art.
Smith shared Mondrian's affection for New York, writing in 1989, "New York City revealed its physical self to me through the mountains and canyons of the Southwest. There were the ups and downs--the high peaks, the in-betweens, or the canyons, and topped with the great dome....I felt the city to be a perfect equation for a great abstraction." (Ratcliff, 1996). The New York experience was a turning point, and he never looked back. His genius in extending their geometric tenants truly takes hard-edge minimalism to the next level. His free-hand approach, use of diagonals and circles and the abandonment of the European geometricians’ grids would “re-invent the purpose of geometric abstraction”.
Regarding his Constellation Series Carter Ratcliff wrote, “If we are to understand at full scale, the trajectories that carry a pattern from canvas to canvas in his multi-part Constellations, we must remember how it feels for the eye to reach across space to a far-off horizon.”
Smith’s work is including in the permanent collections of numerous museums including the Guggenheim, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and the National Gallery of Art.
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