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Saturday, November 6th, 2004, 10:59 PM
Vorticist Photography (http://www.angelfire.com/pr/photoplay/vorticism/vorticism.html)

The abstract images are based on the kaleidoscope and involves clamping three mirrors together so they face one another to form a hollow triangular prism through which objects and placed and photographed.

Coburn built himself an apparatus for this purpose, which had three mirrors angled at each other. He used thisapparatus to photograph Ezra Pound, the spokesman for a movement of abstract painters that called itself "Vorticism". Coburn displayed these Vortographs in a London exhibition in 1917, which led to very controversial discussions.

He joined a group of artists (including Wyndham Lewis, Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, Charles Nevinson, and William Roberts) who called themselves Vorticists. Their journal, Blast, was published from 1914-15. Visually, Vorticism was expressed in abstract compositions of bold lines, sharp angles and planes. Coburn experimented with what he termed vortographs: abstract pictures of crystals taken through a triangular tunnel of mirrors called a Vortoscope.


Vorticism (http://users.senet.com.au/~dsmith/vorticism.htm)


Although only short lived, Vorticism derives its significance not only for its Cubist-Futurist style, but also because it was the first organised art movement in England dedicated to abstraction. Confined almost exclusively to England, Vorticism was one of a number of art styles during this period to further expand the ideas developed by Cubism and important also for British artistic evolution since all the Major new art ideas at that time were emanating from other European centres.

Like Futurism and Rayonnism the Vortists were inspired by the pace of modern life and sort to capture the dynamic state of urban, industrial and technological progress.


The first quarter of the 20th century was one of the most productive periods in human history. The development of expansive and active urban populations with a greater desire for products accelerated development in most areas of human endeavour. As a consequence communication became more rapid over vast distances, travel was faster and more accessible and cities became focal points for innovative artistic ideas.

The force of steam, the lines of the express, of gas, of oil,
This triumph of our age, the Atlantic cable wire,
The Pacific Railway, the Suez Canal, the tunnels under Mount Cenis, Saint -Gothard and Hoosac,

the Brooklyn Bridge.

This earth quite wrapped up by railways, by steamships lines which cross all the seas.....

Blaise Cendrars

Artists challenged old ways of visual represention and not only looked at the real world more subjectively, but reflected inwardly as well. Poets experimented with fragmented syntax, composers reinvented musical structures while art movements such as Cubism, Futurism, Rayonnism, Fauvism, Orphism and the irreverant Dada amongst others stimulated a creative explosion in the visual arts.


As a style it is debatable as to whether one can confidently call Vorticism a movement in art in the same way Cubism and Futurism are called movements. It was essentially dominated by the personality of Wyndham Lewis, and not all members strictly followed the philosophical aspirations of its ideals.
Vorticism had its origins in 1913 (although Lewis had produced Vorticist drawings in 1912) after four artists led by Lewis left the Roger Fry led Omega Group, calling themselves the Rebel Art Centre. With Lewis were Edward Wadsworth, Frederick Etchells and Cuthbert Hamilton who were publicly supported by Futurist Filipo Marinelli.
Fry's insistence on Post-impressionist ideas clashed with the Lewis' groups attraction toward more forceful abstraction. Although the Rebel Art Centre lasted only a few months its basic artistic ideas evolved into Vorticism, a term coined by Ezra Pound.
At this time a number of art groups with aesthetic doctrines of varying persuasions gathered under the banner of the London Group, which held its first exhibition as part of the Camden Town Group in late 1913. The Artist members of the London Group shared a common dissatisfaction with the establishment run Academy and the New English Art Club. It was widely representative of young English artists.
The London Group's first exhibition in March 1914 also included Lewis' Rebel Art Centre, whose controversial Cubist-Futurist orientated works were displayed. Here they were also joined by painter David Bomberg, and later by sculptor Jacob Epstein and writers Ezra Pound and T E Hulme.

Pound's term Vorticism suggested a spiraling force which should draw the viewer into the work, creating a new dynamism and strong focal point. This idea together with the Vorticists rejection of Cubism as too static and of Futurism as too impressionistic in style and sequential in its depiction of movement, cemented the groups' pivitol philosophy.
With Jessica Dismorr, Lawrence Atkinson, William Roberts and sculptor Henri Gaudier-Brzeska also now members, the first edition on July 2nd 1914 of 'BLAST' magazine was issued. This publication (the second and last was issued in 1915) outlined their ideas as well as reproducing examples of the artists' work.

The Vorticists celebrated the modern world with its machines and monumental architecture, and interpreted through their work the vitality of the time. They primarily worked in a 2 dimensional format basing the underlying structure of their work on Cubisms' fragmentation of objects and multiple viewpoints. Whereas the futurists showed movement in their work through a progression of sequential moments, the Vorticists looked for an all over sense of movement, drawing the observer into the work toward a distant vortex.
Unlike the painterly impressionistic qualities of Futurism the Vorticists' works were sharply defined forms with flat, vibrant colours based on simplistic geometric shapes. They also expressed an inner emotional content unlike Cubism which was more an intellectual study of objective reality.


Although Cubism was the root of the Vorticists style it was essentially the Futurist idea of a dynamic art capturing the modernity of the era which most inspired the movement. The Futurism exhibition held in London during 1912-13 was influential to many young English artists, most of whom had also seen Cubism at first hand. Futurism and its exponents however were seen to be uncomfortably brash in promoting an art which glorified the machinations of war and came across as visually violent.
Aerial photography, engineering marvels, electricity and speed were all contributing points of influence to the style, but the important theoretical impetus came from non-artists.
Laurence Binyon, poet and art historian, spoke in 1911 of Chinese art principles which stressed rhythmic vitality or spiritual rhythm expressed in the movement of life and the body. Poet and critic T E Hulme wrote of an abstract art which was still grounded in representation, having a figurative content where visual forms remained the dominant aspect of the composition.
It was poet Ezra Pound's strong vocal and literary support for the Vorticist ideals however which were the prime source of inspiration for the artists. Pound spoke of a point of maximum energy and a whirlpool of human imagination, and stressed its ideas were literary as well as artistic.

For the Rebel Art Group these influences evolved into Vorticism and were interpreted by them in various ways.


Although the Vorticist ideal was an art which drew the viewer into a spiralling cubist based vortex of dynamic shapes and forms, it was in reality the dynamism of the times which was the primary motivating factor for the artists. For every member of the Vorticist group there was a different interpretation of what consituted the visual aspects of Vorticism. But it was Wynham Lewis however who held sway as the leading exponent of the Vorticist method, being the self proclaimed initiator of the style. In fact it could be argued that Lewis was Vorticism.

Together with Lewis in the Vorticist Group were abstract painter and sculptor Lawrence Atkinson, William Roberts whose Cubist works were somewhat similar to Legers tubular figure style, Edward Wadsworth whose work of this period has mostly been lost, scultor Henri Gaudier-Brzeska who blended figurative and non-figuative forms into the earliest known 20th century abstract sculptures and painter Cuthbert Hamilton. The group also included two female members, artist/illustator Jessica Dismorr and painter Helen Saunders.
These eight artists were then the core that pursued the Vorticist ideals and exhibited at the groups only English exhibition at Dore Gals in June 1915 (a second was held in New York during Janurary 1917, by which time the group had disbanded). It must be said however that Pound and Hulme, were also important members, but contributed in a literacy and philosophical way rather than visual.
Painter David Bomberg was briefly associated with the droup in early 1914 but soon left after disagreements with Lewis. Three other artists, C R W Nevinson, Jacob Epstein and Fredrick Etchells were loosely connected with Vorticism although never actually attached themselves to the recognised group. The Futurist/Cubist abstractions of Bomberg, Nevinson, Epstein and Etchells tended to be much more figuratively based and although sympathetic to the Vorticist ideas were never considered as such. They were more aligned to the ideals of a dynamic art that reflected the times rather than the notion of a spiralling vortex.


Vorticism was primarily a two dimensional style with painting and drawing being prominent formats. Printmaking, in particular woodcuts were also a feature with Wadsworth being one of the more productive. Gaudier-Brzeska, killed at 24 in World War 1 produced the most important Vorticist sculpture both in carved and cast forms and was highly influential on future British scultors, in particular Henry Moore.
Vorticism through Lewis, Pound and Hulme was also a literary style with Lewis writing both a play, Energy of the Stars and a novel, Tarr, while both editions of BLAST produced a number of influential and experimebntal writings.
Also influential was the first competely abstract photography pioneered by Alvin Langdon Coburn in 1917; called a VorTograph. Vortographs were composed by photographing objects through a triangular arrangement of 3 mirrors in the form of a kaleidascope.

The Vorticist method was to create a representational art in a Cubist-Futurist influenced form, until reference to the original reality had mostly disappeared.


Like Futurism the Vorticist style was essentially a casulty of World War 1, as many of the artists enlisted in the armed forces. Also general infighting amongst the groups' members contributed to its abrupt demise at the end of 1915.
The Vorticists' important legacy could be said to have been how its controversial style rattled Londons' conservative pre-war artistic complacency and the stimulus it provided abstract artists of the 1930's. The influences that encouraged the development of both representational and non-representational art are wide and varied, but it is certain that Vorticism played a role in its evolution. It is unfortunate however that its true impact cannot be fully gauged since far too many works are no loner in existence. BLAST magazine however is regarded as an important contribution to 20th century typography and its Vorticist reproductions may have influenced Malevichs' Suprematism. Particular aspects of the Vorticist style also pre-date similar shapes and forms of Art Deco.

Vorticism can never be regarded as a leading 20th century art movement, but was however a legitimate and dynamic branch of a tree that began with Cubism. It never revived itself after the war nor were its philosophies championed by other artists. None of the groups' original members continued to pursue its underlying ideals either, although some including Jessica Dismorr followed a distinctly abstract path.
For more on Vorticism, see Frans_Jozef's thread (http://forums.skadi.net/showpost.php?p=213695&postcount=1) in NEW Poes.