The Boom Years

The explosive vorticist movement remembered

Text by Ajay RS Hothi

Tank _vol 7issue 28

David Bomberg, The Mud Bath (1914), courtesy Tate, London

Fusing radical political thought with the elegant aesthetic of art nouveau, the European avant-garde transformed society at the start of the 20th century, and the Vorticists were Britain’s own vanguards. Led by painter and author Wyndham Lewis and named in 1913 by Ezra Pound, Vorticism was the result of Lewis’s break from the Bloomsbury Group. In reaction to the stuffy traditionalism of Edwardian England, the Vorticists created a new aesthetic for British art and design that fully embodied the dynamism of the machine age, using geometric forms and abstracted iconography to respond to the tumultuous vortex of modernity. In the first issue of their seminal journal BLAST, they published a manifesto both BLESSing and BLASTing England, in a complex contradiction they felt typified the revolutionary characteristics of the modern man. This explosive publication featured contributions by writers and artists such as T. S. Eliot, Ford Madox Ford, Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, Jessica Dismorr and Dorothy Shakespear. Just two issues of BLAST were ever published, though, and the Vorticists held only one exhibition in the UK before World War I forced their dissolution. Gaudier-Brzeska and T. E. Hulme were killed in action, and many others emigrated to the US after the war. Despite its short life, the movement had an enormous impact on future generations of artists, from Barbara Hepworth and Anthony Caro to Bridget Riley. Just shy of a century later, Tate Britain’s survey allows the roar of the groundbreaking movement to be heard once more. §