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AbstractionEnlarge image

Abstraction, 1939

Lawren S. Harris
Canadian, 1885 - 1970
oil on canvas
140.6 x 87.6 cm
Gift of the estate of Bess Harris, and of the three children of Lawren S. Harris, 1973
National Gallery of Canada (no. 17161)

The preparatory sketches for "Abstraction" are missing the three circles that appear at the bottom of the finished canvas. Both painting and sketches, however, contain the same strong, central vertical element, flanked by layers of abstracted geometric forms. These qualities echo the visual vocabulary of Art Deco, a popular design movement initiated in the 1920s, which had an impact on all the arts, including architecture, visual arts, functional arts, and graphic design. "Abstraction" demonstrates the influence of Dynamic Symmetry, a system of proportions and design methodology that was developed by the artist Jay Hambridge in 1920. The principle tenet of Dynamic Symmetry was to seek compositional unity by using rectilinear forms and their diagonals to create an "asymmetrical harmony of arrangement." Harris believed that the use of this compositional system "releases the imaginative powers, liberating the creative forces towards a final unquestionable order."

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