In the summer of 1914 a new movement and its magazine changed the future of British art—and now the Tate is devoting its first major show to the Vorticistsby Richard Cork / May 25, 2011 / Leave a comment
Published in June 2011 issue of Prospect Magazine
The Crowd (1914-15) by Wyndham Lewis: a typical Vorticist painting “filled with lean, clear-cut vivacity and exhilarating colour”
A century ago, rebellious young artists across Europe banded together in a succession of loudly publicised avant-garde movements. After Expressionism had erupted in Germany, Cubism revolutionised painting in France. Then the Futurists came out of Italy, demanding that art should celebrate the blurred excitement of machine-age dynamism. Rival groups issued manifestos, proclaiming their ability to transform everyone’s vision of the modern era. The years leading up to the first world war were alive with the energy of all these conflicting “-isms,” and in the summer of 1914 a new British movement was announced by a belligerent magazine called BLAST.
This publication marked the arrival of Vorticism, and it burst on the world with the impact of a bomb. The thick, black capitals peppering its pages had the force of a loudhailer. The images reproduced in BLAST proved that British art was being revolutionised by a fresh, London-based generation of painters and sculptors dedicated to extreme, urgent renewal. They wanted to sweep away the inhibiting legacy of the “VICTORIAN VAMPIRE,” and now the summer exhibition at Tate Britain intends to celebrate the landmark importance of the Vorticists’ achievement.
Although many of their key works are either lost or destroyed, enough survive to reveal the group’s vitality and daring at full stretch. Tate is devoting its first-ever major show to Vorticism, highlighting the movement’s significance and revealing in particular how BLAST managed to broadcast its groundbreaking ideas. Like the Expressionists, Cubists and Futurists, the Vorticists were in a hurry. Some of them had only just graduated from the Slade School of Art in London, and the exuberant iconoclasm of BLAST was powered by a healthy disrespect for their elders. The Vorticists were convinced that Brita…