Geometric abstract art might at first glance seem completely detached from the natural world, a branch of abstract art devoid of emotion and lacking the force and energy of the great ‘action’ paintings.
Not true. Although words such as ‘intellectual’,’ ordered’, ‘harmonious’,’ perfect’– all sit comfortably around abstract geometric art and it does appeal to our sense of order and balance, the artists who made it were as emotionally involved with the process of making art as those artists who chose to work without boundaries and the results are just as moving and engaging.
Nature is full of geometry and this mathematical perfection is what inspired so many artists to use geometric abstract art to express their view of the world. Squares, circles, straight lines, geometrical patterns in the hands of the right artist are as powerful and liberating as the expansive and seemingly more random gestures of the action painters.
Some of the earliest examples of abstract art are purely geometric.
For Kasimir Malevich geometric abstraction was the perfect vehicle to express pure feeling through his paintings. As early as 1913, he was using a simple black square to communicate this.
Piet Mondrian took a similar approach and his geometric abstract paintings have a timeless quality that makes them as powerful today as they were when he painted them in the 1920s and 30s. His work inspired fellow Dutch painter, Theo van Doesburg, to experiment with geometric abstraction.
A later generation of artists such as Kenneth Noland, Frank Stella, John McLaughlin and Al Held adopted geometric abstraction as a response to the more flamboyant style of abstract expressionism.
They set out to make painting appear less subjective and emotional by eliminating evidence of brushwork and creating a hard-edged, cooler look.
Victor Vasarely experimented with color and optical illusion to express what he called the ‘internal geometry’ of the natural world and create vibrant geometric art (known as Op Art or Optical Art).
Another well-known exponent of Op Art is British artist, Bridget Riley.
Geometric abstract art appeals to the intellect and to our need to feel that our world is organised and harmonious.
In many cases it is highly colourful and the repetitive nature of the patterns used provides a (most likely subliminal) sense of comfort and security.
Nature, although it might give the appearance of being chaotic, is highly structured and organised, and this is something we instinctively recognise. Geometric abstract art often appeals more to the male sensibility and to those of us who prefer a sharp, modernist look.
Its structured, hard-edged qualities are not for everyone but for those who do crave its order and mathematical perfection, there is a lot of great art to choose from.