Geometric Abstract Art - A History

Geometric Abstract Art - A History

With the development of film and photography, artists looked to move away from painting reality and, instead, began to experiment with the art form, resulting in movements such as Cubism, Expressionism, and Geometric Abstraction, one of the more interesting mixtures emerging within abstract art.

Lion 1947

Lion 1947 Source: Jill New House Gallery

The History

After centuries of artworks on realistic landscapes and the wealthy upper-classes, there emerged geometric abstract art, a movement that confounded and bemused art lovers. For artists interested in using mathematical elements, they aimed to strip back the figurative and use the beauty of simple geometric shapes to create compositions. Geometric abstract art lacks references to the representational world, which was already being depicted with the arrival of photography and film. These evolving technologies only encouraged painters to look toward experimentation.

In 1930s Paris, geometric abstract art was the style in focus. Its focus on an abstract style using geometric forms has made appearances in various movements before being taken to complete focus. These movements are Art Deco in France, Bauhaus in Germany, De Stijl in the Netherlands, and Suprematism in the Soviet Union (Russia). Some of the primary artworks of geometric abstract art are Black Square (1915) and White on White (1918) by Kazimir Malevich, followed by Wassily Kandinsky’s Colour Study: Squares with Concentric Circles (1913). Geometric abstract art developed alongside Cubism and Futurism, and its exploration went beyond painting, and there are in fact works of geometric abstract art in sculpture, drawing, and architecture. 

Geometric Art Examples

Piet Mondrian

Piet Mondrian’s artistic career began with more traditional paintings rooted in representation before he headed to Paris and fell under the influence of Cubism and his work ended up being more abstract. He limited his colour palette to the primary colours and used black lines to highlight two directions, horizontal and vertical. He hoped to create a common language with these simplified subjects. These contrasting blocks of colour and white with the strong black lines were Mondrian’s attempt to represent natural harmony, though not literally. This is exemplified in Composition with Large Red Plane, Yellow, Black, Gray, and Blue (1921), Tableau No. IV: Lozenge Composition with Red, Gray, Blue Yellow, and Black (1924-25), and Composition with Red Blue and Yellow (1930).

 Composition with Large Red Plane, Yellow, Black, Gray, and Blue, 1921

Composition with Large Red Plane, Yellow, Black, Gray, and Blue, 1921 Source:

Theo van Doesburg

A handful of Theo van Doesburg’s looks suspiciously similar to those of Piet Mondrian. This isn’t a case of theft but a result of the two artists’ close friendship. Sharing worldviews and artistic ideals, they couldn’t help but influence one another. The pair founded the De Stijl movement, where they embraced abstract art and simplified aesthetics, but van Doesburg acted as its ambassador. Van Doesburg’s Composition VII (the Three Graces) (1917) and Counter Composition XIII (1929) are such examples of Mondrian’s influence, but then he has produced wildly radical geometric compositions like Composition I and Composition in Gray (Rag-time) (1919).

Composition in Gray (Rag-time) (1919)

Composition in Gray (Rag-time) (1919)

Kazimir Malevich

Kazimir Malevich is considered one of the pioneers of abstraction. He also explored the use of geometric shapes in his abstract work. His most famous geometric abstraction is Black Square (1915), a painting that features a black square on white that suggests to the viewer that anything can be art. Malevich founded Suprematism, which used geometrical shapes in place of figurative images. They focused on basic geometric forms, these being squares and circles, rectangles and lines. The movement emerged in the Soviet Union.

Black Square

Black Square 1915 Source: Wikipedia

Josef Albers

American-German artist Josef Albers is best known for his colour square paintings Homage to the Square series. It was through the square that Albers discovered the shape as a form could be subservient to colour. By placing three or four squares within each other, he was able to focus only on colour. Albers never mixed colours for this series but used those that came straight from the tube. He developed this concept in 1950 and continued with the idea until his death in 1976.

Study for Homage to the Square

Study for Homage to the Square Source: TATE