A cranky anti-poseur, Wyndham Lewis had a lot to say about modernity. The father of an obscure movement called Vorticism, he was on a continual quest for the pure, clear essence of his time. The artist himself described the movement as... [more]
A cranky anti-poseur, Wyndham Lewis had a lot to say about modernity. The father of an obscure movement called Vorticism, he was on a continual quest for the pure, clear essence of his time. The artist himself described the movement as "Activity as opposed to the tasteful Passivity of Picasso; Significance as opposed to the dull and anecdotal character to which the naturalist is condemned; Essential Movement and Activity (such as the energy of a mind) as opposed to the imitative cinematography, the fuss and hysterics of the Futurists." The Vorticists were quite sure about what they didn't want to be -- but what were they? Although Lewis delighted in criticizing Cubism and Futurism, many of his own paintings echo both. One of his early paintings, 1917's "Revolution," is a complex, abstract network of lines and geometrical shapes that spookily suggests an inhuman web of industrial activity. Vorticism was about movement and scale, an attempt to capture the clean, hard shape of modernity. Lewis was also quite prolific with the pen. (Some say he was better at criticism than creation.) His Imagist-influenced writings first appeared in Blast, a Vorticist review that he published with the American poet Ezra Pound. After that, his writing branched out in a number of directions: short stories and novels like "Tarr," "The Apes of God," "The Human Age Trilogy," and "The Wild Body;" political theory such as "The Art of being Ruled;" and a book of essays on Modern Art, "Time and Western Man." However, Lewis never abandoned painting. His later paintings -- like "The Surrender of Barcelona" (1936) and a famous portrait of American poet T.S. Eliot -- move from abstraction to stylized figures and objects. Though with age, his take on the world softened, Lewis continued to embrace a violent geometry in works that were meant as visual missiles. With a single glance, they explode our aesthetic complacency.