October 31, 2003
Geometric abstraction is reassessed at NoHo Modern.

By Christopher Knight, Times Staff Writer

As oil paint and Masonite give way to plastic-based acrylics and canvas in her work, rectilinear planes of dark and light evolve into colored fields of curved space. Following the trajectory of these paintings is rather like watching tectonic plates begin to shift, break apart and slowly bend beneath unseen forces of unstoppable pressure — rather like the unfolding decade of the 1960s itself.

Harwood, who taught for many years at Los Angeles Valley College before her recent retirement, is a second-generation Hard Edge painter. The term — coined in 1959 by her late husband, the eminent art critic Jules Langsner, for an older group of painters that famously included John McLaughlin and Lorser Feitelson — marked the first episode of international success for postwar Los Angeles art. The aesthetic helped to spawn directions as disparate as the perceptual environments of Robert Irwin's Light and Space art and the epistemological sculptures of Bruce Nauman.

The show's earliest painting, from 1959, is a handsome vertical abstraction in flat, velvety shades of black, gray and teal blue. Perceptually, a subtle grid is established. Black and gray rectangles bisect the panel's bottom edge, while the top edges of those rectangles cut the picture in two across the center. (Think of mullions dividing a window.) Interlocking L-shapes are dominant in the top half.

The intimation of a grid plays quietly against the actual, hand-rendered shapes, few of which are strictly horizontal or vertical. Slightly canted instead, the rectangles leave slivers of white or black between them, like piercing shards of light or shadow. The surface shapes seem to jostle for position. Without benefit of traditional devices of illusionism, space opens up.

Linear shapes form a grid of sorts in a
1959 abstract painting by Hard Edge artist
June Harwood.
(Noho Modern Gallery)