From the end of World War II to the late 1960s, jazz and art shared much in common. With Europe in tatters in 1945 and many museums looted or destroyed, the center of the art world shifted from Paris to New York, where new approaches to painting and sculpture were being developed side by side with new styles of jazz. Instead of classical formality driving the art cart, individualism and personal expression became dominant, and the same was true of jazz. Art, however, was often in the creative lead, largely because painters only had a point of difference to stand out and sell their works. Jazz had gigs and recordings, and musicians had to work together to produce both.
For example, the large-scale free-form jazz that Ornette Coleman, Eric Dolphy and John Coltrane would pioneer in the 1960s had already been explored in action paintings by artists like Franz Kline and Jackson Pollack 10 years earlier in the early 1950s. Even when pop art emerged in Britain in the late 1950s, New York artists leveraged the form and made a much bigger deal of it with bolder expression—a movement that largely escaped jazz treatment. Interestingly, both jazz and art would wind up cozying up to rock around the same time—1968. [Above, 8 by Robert Indiana, 1962]
One painter who pioneered a style in the 1950s that could be considered the art world's hard-bop equivalent is Robert Indiana. Starting in 1956, he began exploring a style that would become known as "hard edge"—works that incorporated stenciled words and numbers with bold, colorful geometric shapes with hard edges, resulting in work that echoed advertising signage. Indiana's integration of language bits such as "Eat," "Hug" and, most famously, "LOVE" as well as his commanding use of color set the tone for the pop movement. Indiana's literalism and dynamic approach to filling space shared values with hard bop, most notably distinct lines and the integration of tone values into one complete idea. [Above, The Green Diamond Eat The Red Diamond Die by Robert Indiana, 1962]
Recently, I had an opportunity to chat by phone with Indiana from his home in Vinalhaven, Maine. The result can be found my "House Call" column today in the Mansion section of the Wall Street Journal (go here or please buy the paper). Like his artworks, Indiana favors clipped answers and thoughts that end abruptly. But he also likes to talk about what he loves—most notably his Victorian lodge. Indiana told me he's finishing his memoir, which should make for some fascinating reading when it's done at the end of the year, since he was in the thick of things in New York throughout the 1960s. [Above, The Triumph of Tira, by Robert Indiana, 1960-61]
"I still have the original brass number stencils I used in my early hard-edge works. I first found them in the early 1960s on the floor of my Coenties Slip apartment. They made my artwork easy to do, giving them handsome formality. They're from the 19th century, when designers had an eye for what to do with space. You can mangle space or you can make it feel alive. The stencils made my works vibrant." [Above, Eat, by Robert Indidiana, a pop sculpture orignally installed at the New York Worlds Fair in 1964 but removed because fair-goers kept assuming it was a place to get a snack]
You can mangle space or you can make it feel alive. That's beautiufl. I only wish I could have made the trip up to visit with him.
JazzWax clips: Today, I want to try something different. Below is a largely wordless video clip of Robert Indiana's recent retrospective—Beyond Love—at the Whitney Museum of American Art. Below that clip is Horace Silver's No Smokin' from his The Stylings of Silver (1957). Click on the Whitney clip first. [Above, The Figure 5 by Robert Indiana, 1963]
When the intro sound has finished and you're in the gallery, click on the Silver clip. Hard bop meets hard edge.
Robert Indiana's Beyond Love at the Whitney Museum of American Art...
Horace Silver's No Smokin' from The Stylings of Silver (1957), a song title that coincidentally shares Indiana's fascination with signage...