A n originator of the shaped canvas, artist Carl Pickhardt (1908–2004) began creating his free form paintings in the early 1950s. These works had no fixed orientation and each possessed its own unique, geometric silhouette; the nearly sculptural artworks hearkened a new pictorial structure freed from horizontal or vertical reference. A new exhibition Carl Pickhardt: Free Form at Sotheby’s San Francisco presents sixteen canvases by the under-recognized artist, on view to the public now through 28 September 2018.
Before he began creating what Pickhardt dubbed “abstractions in new shapes,” the Massachusetts-born artist attended Harvard University and studied under noted painter and art instructor Harold Zimmerman, who later influenced Expressionist painters such as Jack Levine and Hyman Bloom. Pickhardt's innovative canvases were in many ways art-historically prescient. His first free form painting dates to 1953, some seven years before Frank Stella’s first experimentation with “deductive” pictorial structure and nine years before Kenneth Noland’s lozenge shaped chevron paintings.
Like Hans Arp before him, Pickhardt derived pictorial structure from the physical character of the picture support itself. Each of the free form paintings may be revolved like a turntable, appearing in any position around its axis, fixed at its center to the wall. As art historian Parker Tyler notes, "each outline quivers, expands and contracts, the way the heart does in a human body, sending out waves of energy.” Unconstrained by the traditional boundaries of a rectangular frame, Pickhardt’s spontaneous paintings "combine the cerebral and the intuitive, with a critical independence and a controlled passion and intensity in his forms and shapes."
Carl Pickhardt’s artwork has been included in exhibitions at the Art Institute of Chicago; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston; and the National Academy of Design, New York. His work is included in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Brooklyn Museum; Library of Congress, Washington DC; Philadelphia Museum of Art; and the Fogg Museum of Art, Cambridge, Massachusetts.