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Abstract Forms

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Abstract Forms

Artist: Abraham Walkowitz (American, born Russian, 1878 - 1965)

Date: 1915
Medium: Water-soluble crayon applied dry and as a wash with graphite on heavy, off-white wove paper
Overall: 11 1/4 × 8 7/16in. (28.6 × 21.4cm)
Inscribed: Recto, lower left (graphite): "AW"; Lower center (black ink): "A. Walkowitz 1915"; Verso, center (graphite): "A. Walk[owitz]"
Credit Line: Museum Purchase
Object number: 81.46
Text Entries

An intimate of Stieglitz’s 291 circle between 1912-17, Walkowitz was one of a handful of artists in the United States working in an abstract style during this period. He believed that the truly felt artistic expression captured the essence of a form rather than described it.(2) Walkowitz frequently used musical analogies to describe the aims of his art, and his myriad images after Isadora Duncan epitomized his attempt to capture and express visually the essence of all that was vital in life.(3)

Walkowitz was a prolific draftsman and found that drawing enabled him to experiment freely with a radical reduction of representational subject matter or non-objective equivalents of sensations.(4) In the MWPI work he floated geometric forms in three loosely sketched registers of purple, green, and blue. Walkowitz drew with a pastel crayon of highly saturated pigment and then brushed over the color with water to create selected areas of wash. He framed this bright composition with a black wash border.(5) The green center section is the largest of the registers; it is dominated by three interlocking circles of orange-red, purple, and yellow. Where the circles overlap, the color is a muted wash of either purple or red. There are smaller yellow circles in the upper purple register and the lower blue one, but the remaining geometric shapes are left uncolored. Walkowitz outlined these rectangles, squares and triangles with graphite and allowed the white of the paper to assert itself as chromatic and spatial foil to the circles. The large triangle in the top section and the two small rectangles in the center section stand alone, but the triangles at left center, the squares in the lower left, and the triangle and rectangle at the lower center are layered. Walkowitz selectively shaded the layers to heighten the illusion of three dimensional space. This ploy plays against the inherent flatness declared by the rest of the composition.

Although the MWPI drawing is completely non-objective, Walkowitz nevertheless claimed that his work was always tied to life experiences. The forms he used in the drawing are similar to those in his Geometric Series, produced after he met Duncan. In this and two other series, Dance Swirls and Vibrating Figures, Walkowitz tried to capture the pure expression of movement that characterized Duncan’s dancing for him.(6) It was not only the dynamic, dancing human form, however, that Walkowitz expressed in geometric shapes. He also perceived New York City as a pulsating entity, and for his Improvisations of New York: A Symphony in Lines, Walkowitz created numerous depictions of the city in which he occasionally translated its buildings and energy into a series of interconnected lines and geometric forms.(7)


1. Dating Walkowitz’s work is problematic; he worked simultaneously in divergent styles, and he assigned dates to pieces many years after he created them. The New York Public Library's copy of bound photographs from Walkowitz’s A Demonstration from the Objective, Abstract and Non-Objective Art (Girard, Kans.: Haldeman-Julius, 1948), pl. 48, reproduces nine images dated 1915 from a group of drawings to which the MWPI work is related. However, Virginia Zabriskie, via Heather B. Nevin to author, April 20, 1994 would date the MWPI drawing to the late 1930s or early 19405.

2. See Walkowitz’s 1913 statement in Abraham Walkowitz Papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., microfilm D303, frames 1045-46, or The Forum Exhibition of Modern American Painters (New York: Mitchell Kennerly, 1916; reprint, New York: Arno Press, 1968), unpaginated.

3. In an undated artist‘s statement, Walkowitz wrote, “Abstract art is wholly independent of picturization. . . . It has a universal language, and dwells in the realm of music with an equivalent emotion. Its melody is attuned to the receptive eye as is music to the ear." See Walkowitz Papers, microfilm D303, frame 1653.

4. See Kent Smith, Abraham Walkowitz: Figuration 1895-1945 (Long Beach, Calif: Long Beach Museum of Art, 1982), 11. See also Oscar Bluemner, “Walkowitz,” Camera Work XLIV (October 1913): 25, who wrote that Walkowitz could “refract expressions of life through pictorial equivalents.”

5. William Innes Homer, in Alfred Stieglitz and the American Ai1ant- Garde (Boston, Mass; New York Graphic Society, 1977), 216-17, stated that Walkowitz borrowed this vignette device from Marin.

6 . See Smith, Abraham Walkowitz: Figuration 1895-1945, 32-35.

7. Improvisations of New York." A Symphony in Lines (Girard, Kans.: Haldeman-Julius, 1948). The similarity of the title to those used by Kandinsky is not coincidental; see Bluemner, “Walkowitz,” Camera Work, 26, and Homer, Alfred Stieglitz and the American Avant-Garde, 217.


Orphaned work.