shaped canvas

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A term that began to be used in the 1960s for paintings on supports that departed from the traditional rectangular format. Non-rectangular pictures were of course not new at this time: Gothic and Renaissance altarpieces often had pointed or rounded tops, the oval was particularly popular in the Baroque and Rococo periods, and so on. The phrase ‘shaped canvas’, however, usually alludes particularly to a type of abstract painting that emphasizes the ‘objecthood’ of the work, proclaiming it as something that exists entirely in its own right and not as a reference to, or reproduction of, something else. Various artists have been claimed as the ‘inventor’ of the shaped canvas in this sense, but its most prominent exponent has undoubtedly been Frank Stella, who has used such shapes as Vs, lozenges, and fragments of circles. The leading British exponent has been Richard Smith (b 1931), who has sometimes used a kite-shaped format in which the canvas is stretched on rods that are part of the visual structure of the picture. He was one of the artists represented in an exhibition entitled ‘The Shaped Canvas’, organized by Lawrence Alloway at the Guggenheim Museum, New York, in 1974. The shaped canvas has also occasionally been used by modern figurative painters, notably Anthony Green.

Subjects: Art.

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