A radical English art movement of the early twentieth century led by Wyndham Lewis. Influenced by the Futurists, they favoured urban, industrial subjects and promoted a hard-edged, angular style.
The Origins of Vorticism
Vorticism was founded by Wyndam Lewis in 1914 in London and is now regarded as England’s first avant-garde group. The style is defined by bold colours, harsh lines and sharp angles along with a fascination in the machine age. The movement was explored in a range of media including painting, sculpture, literature, typography and design, however its distinctive angular, abstract painting style has become synonymous with the name. Poet Ezra Pound first named the group the ‘Vorticists’, which Wyndham Lewis described in more detail, ‘You think at once of a whirlpool. At the heart of the whirlpool is a great silent place where all the energy is concentrated; and there at the point of concentration is the Vorticist.’ They were influenced by Cubism and Futurism, bringing together dynamic shards of colour and form.
The Rebel Centre
Lewis was formerly a member of Roger Fry’s Omega workshops, which drew on Post-Impressionism and the Arts and Crafts, however Lewis went on to found the more experimental collective The Rebel Centre in 1914, along with Frederick Etchells, Cuthbert Hamilton and Edward Wadsworth. Other associated artists included David Bomberg, Jacob Epstein, William McCance, William Patrick Roberts and Eric Robertson. Poets T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound were among the group’s supporters, along with philosopher T.E. Hulme, whose ideal modern art was, ‘angular… hard and geometrical with the presentation of the human body … often entirely non vital, and distorted to fit into stiff lines and cubical shapes.’ In contrast with many of the early 20th-century avant-garde movements the Vorticists included women artists, namely Jessica Dismorr and Helen Saunders.
One of the Vorticist’s most prominent contributions was the periodical BLAST!, edited by Lewis with the assistance of Pound, although only two editions were produced. The first was published in 1915 just before the outbreak of war , with the word BLAST emblazoned across a pink backdrop. It contained texts by Lewis outlining the Vorticists’ rejection of British traditions in favour of innovation, urbanization and a new, modern world. The second issue was published during the First World War and took a more sombre tone, featuring a black and white woodcut design by Lewis, poetry by Helen Saunders and Jessie Dismorr, and two poems by T. S. Eliot. After the release of BLAST!’s second issue, the first Vorticist exhibition was held in June 1915 at the Dore Gallery in London. In 1917 Pound and American collector John Quinn organised a display of their work at the Penguin Club in New York, but against the backdrop of the war, both exhibitions received little positive attention.
Vorticism largely dispersed during the war, with many of their artists either drafted or killed in action. As a movement, Vorticism was brief in duration but made its mark and in recent years has received greater recognition for its vital contributions to British abstract art.