Leon Polk Smith, color serigraph, 33″ x 23 1/2″, $1200
Leon Polk Smith (1906 – 1996) was born in Chickasha, Oklahoma when the land was still considered Indian Territory. This prairie lifestyle seems the most unlikely of upbringings for an artist who was progressive and later became one of the founders of Hard-edge Abstraction. From a young age he knew he did not want an adult life of tilling the land and so he pursued a career as a teacher by attending Oklahoma State College, now known as East Central University, in Ada. It was at this institution that he was first introduced to art when he saw art classes being conducted. In 1934, he graduated with a Bachelor’s in English and began teaching.
Several years later, he went to graduate school at Columbia University’s famed Teachers College and it was here that he first came in contact with the work of Piet Mondrian, who had the largest impact on Smith’s artistic career. He returned to Oklahoma to continue teaching, but after a major tour of Western Europe, he wanted a more advanced position, which led him to become an Assistant Professor of Art at Georgia Teachers College in Collegeboro, Georgia. He later visited New York City and fell in love with it. Landing a job, and later a fellowship, Smith joined the Museum of Non-Objective Painting, now know as the Guggenheim Museum. Though there were notable trips that influenced his artistic style, from this point on he called New York City home where he worked and lived for the remainder of his life.
Smith’s work naturally began with classical subject matter, but he transitioned to non-objective work highly influenced by Piet Mondrian. Smith’s non-objective paintings began highly angular using straight lines and rectangles, but the work he most known for, such as the ones seen here, use curves and minimal colors. His late paintings included the same circles and ovals seen in this exhibition, but were viewed as highly progressive due to his use of canvases in the same shapes. By doing this, he was no longer inserting a circular shape on a rectangle plane, but instead the image and the support were one unified form.