In 1915, at one of only two exhibitions of vorticism ever presented and one year after the movement was formed, Percy Wyndham Lewis, a painter, polemicist and writer, described the short-lived but electrifying movement as follows: “By vorticism we mean (a) Activity as opposed to the tasteful passivity of Picasso; (b) Significance as opposed to the dull and anecdotal character to which the Naturalist is condemned; (c) Essential Movement and Activity (such as the energy of a mind) as opposed to the imitative cinematography, the fuss and hysterics of the Futurists.” This was an expression of opposition to the decorative phase of synthetic cubism but a curious position because the ideas and style of most of the Vorticists’ works were originally based on futurist and cubist models. There was some interest in the “fourth dimension” at the time and while vorticist art was very geometrical, Wyndham strove to downplay this connection. It was Albert Einstein who redefined the fourth dimension scientifically, not aesthetically or philosophically.
Based in London, the Vorticists were international in scope and quite ambitious in their goals. Their works are dynamic, brimming with explosive energy, diagonals and sharp-edge angularity filling every square inch of their canvases. Bright colors were another hallmark. Gaudier Brzeska, who regrettably died early in the trenches of the first World War, produced many sketchbooks filled with faceted, abstract vorticist drawings. He was also a sculptor. Vorticism’s goal was to go beyond futurism and cubism; their sometimes architectural forms floating in space did just that. It was Ezra Pound who gave this pivotal modernist movement its name, and historians regard vorticism as one of the most truly avant-garde movements in British history.