This episode is from the WNYC archives. It may contain language which is no longer politically or socially appropriate.
Views on Art host, Ruth Bowman, speaks with painter Leon Polk Smith about his then current exhibition of his earlier work at the Galerie Challete in New York City.
Intent on pursuing graduate studies in teaching, Oklahoman Leon Polk Smith moved to New York City in 1936 to study at Columbia University. While attending Columbia, he was exposed to the contemporary works by artists such as Joan Miro, but more importantly, the geometric forms and primary color palette of Piet Mondrian.
At the time of this interview (1970), Smith’s body of work from the end of World War II and 1953 were on exhibit at the Galerie Challet. Smith describes to Bowman how, when he first moved to New York, he was inspired by the “interchangeability of space and form” Mondrian experimented with. In his paintings, Smith took this concept many steps further by working with different canvas shapes—circles, narrow rectangles—with the objective of manipulating the balance of color and shape on the canvas. Throughout his work, he maintained a vibrant color palette, exploring methods of “freeform expression.” By choice, he did not identify himself in a particular art movement, notably Abstract Expressionism, with which this particular body of work is most associated. These experiments led to what Smith and Bowman recognize as his “break,” or evolution as an artist working with shape and form.
WNYC archives id: 9777