Precisionism – The History
Precisionism (also known as Cubist Realism) was an American style of painting that developed around 1920 post World War I. It reached its crescendo during the Inter-war phase. Precisionism focused on industrial subjects. The paintings had a very smooth and precise technique, sharply delineated colors, and geometrical forms.
Precisionists were never properly structured as a group; instead, they were connected through their painting styles and subjects. Precisionism was also influenced by the works of the American Photographers like Paul Strand (1890-1976), who used sharp focus & lighting, unpredicted cropping & viewpoint, and had a bent towards the abstract form of the subject.
Precisionism also displayed a pride in America, during the era of political and economic struggle – the increasing amount of industries in the US was considered as symbol of country’s power and accomplishment. Dealing with its pure form, Precisionism was popular until World War II, slowly it went towards Abstraction, and eventually faded away as an important inspiration.
Precisionist Painting style is believed to be strictly American; however, the style reflected high influence of European Cubism, Futurism, and Orphism. Targeted at American industrialization and modernization during early 1900s, the favorite topic of these Precisionist, as indicated above, included the industrial landscape of factories and smokestacks, skyline (both urban and rural) buildings and machinery, and the country landscape of crumb elevators and barns. Many of the Precisionists used their new, hard-edged style to long-familiar American scenes, such as agricultural structures and domestic architecture. Artists used these patterns to make formal designs; a good amount of Abstraction work is involved in their painting. The image developed by Precisionists is the combination of both Realism and Geometric Schematization.
Precisionism was significant in the growth of American Modernism and Precisionist works were presumed to be greatly influenced by the Pop Art aesthetics.
Charles Demuth and Charles Sheeler were the painters closely associated with Precisionism. Demuth was also well versed with ‘lyrical’ watercolors. His oil painting like “My Egypt” (1927, Whitney Museum of American Art), symbolizes the traits of Precisionism. In “My Egypt,” the Precisionist magnificently represented a Lancaster grain elevator, perhaps the best work by Demuth. “My Egypt” was painted with such an attention that hardly a brushstroke can be seen. Charles Sheeler’s paintings on bridges, factories, grain, farm buildings, and elevators were usually based on his composed photographs.
Other American artists associated with Precisionism include Ralston Crawford, Preston Dickinson, and Niles Spencer. Painters Lyonel Feininger and Joseph Stella also contributed well toward Precisionism, with some stylistic tendencies, while Georgia O’Keeffe applied Precisionism’s sharp vision to capture the topics related to natural subjects.