In my last post I made a reference to the school of Precisionist painters. For those who may not know, Precisionism was the first indigenous modern art movement in the United States. It developed after WWI and saw the peak of its’ popularity in the 1920’s and 1930’s. These artists embraced the geometrical forms found in the American Industrial and urban landscapes and used them to create pure art as well as commercial design.
I am not a fan of most modern art. The majority of it is social or political commentary that is very abstract and negative in nature. Frankly, this makes it difficult for me to relate to and ultimately enjoy.
But the Precisionist movement is not focused on issues and abstractions. It relates mainly to the physical world the artists inhabited. This allows me to connect to it, appreciate it, and enjoy it.
Since Precisionist artists used the surrounding environment as their subject matter, I view this school as a form of realistic landscape art transformed by the industrial revolution with some influences from Cubism. But there are two major differences that separate the landscape artist from Precisionist – choice of subject mater and presentation of the human figure.
First, Precisionists paint artificial landscapes and emphasize the geometrical forms within those landscapes. The square, blocky proportions of a factory, the multiplicity of curves formed by storage tanks, and the sweeping arcs and angles of a steel bridges become their landscapes.
Secondly, similar to landscape artists, people who appear in Precisionist paintings are details subordinate to the main subject. Landscape painters handle this with a reduction in scale of human figures with in the frame. Precisionists handle figures thematically. They create a sense of isolation and marginalization by juxtaposing the figures against the landscape’s artificial nature, which is depicted on a massive scale.
Despite the emotional void or anxiety the theme Precisionist paintings can evoke, I find them to be relaxing to view. Maybe that sense of isolation is comfortable because of my urban upbringing. In a way this emotion is similar to the solitude I also experienced when I spent time in the forests of New York State’s Catskills Mountains and landscapes of the Shawangunk Ridge. The geometric shapes employed in these paintings and choice of muted colors, adds to that sense of calm.
As you can see, I read a lot into these scenes and could not make that reference in my previous post without providing a brief explanation. If you find these artists’ work interesting, then my explanation was worth the time to write.