Machinery (Abstract #2)

  • Paul Kelpe, Machinery (Abstract #2), 1933-1934, oil on canvas, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Transfer from the U.S. Department of Labor, 1964.1.27

Exhibition Label
What kind of industry does the man holding the levers control in Paul Kelpe's painting Machinery. There are no hints; the smokestacks emit no smoke and no product piles up on the factory floor. In fact, Kelpe's mechanism manufactures nothing. He was actually an abstract painter whose concerns were aesthetic. In his paintings for the Public Works of Art Project, he knew that he needed to somehow address "the American Scene." "As they refused to accept 'nonrepresentational' art," he said, "I made a number of pictures with geometric machinery." But Kelpe, unlike the many PWAP artists who factually depicted industrial scenes, studied no real-life factories. He created his own independent visual world, reflecting the kind of technological progress of which Americans were proud. The artist thoughtfully balanced large and small shapes, warm and cool colors, to create a harmonious mechanistic vision. A pattern of diagonal brushstrokes on the painting’s surface catches the light to suggest action. The wheels seem to turn with the soft hum of a well-tuned machine.

1934: A New Deal for Artists exhibition label

Luce Center Label

The shadowed worker in this painting appears to be controlling the structure, suggesting man's essential role in industry and his ability to create massive, powerful machines. During the Depression, many artists celebrated human achievements in this way, to emphasize the importance of the working class and to boost morale. In 1934, Paul Kelpe worked for the Public Works of Art Project. The program did not accept abstract art, so he incorporated realistic elements such as figures, wheels, and buildings into his compositions.

Luce Object Quote
"I compose my paintings of form and color, like a musician composes music with rhythm and sound." The artist, 1936, quoted in Manthorne, Paul Kelpe: Abstractions and Constructions, 1925-1940, 1990
Title
Machinery (Abstract #2)
Artist
Date
1933-1934
On View
Not on view.
Dimensions
38 1/4 x 26 3/8 in. (97.0 x 67.0 cm.)
Credit Line

Smithsonian American Art Museum

Transfer from the U.S. Department of Labor

Mediums
Mediums Description
oil on canvas
Classifications
Keywords
  • Abstract
  • Architecture – machine
  • Figure male – full length
  • Architecture – industry – factory
  • New Deal – Public Works of Art Project – Illinois
Object Number
1964.1.27
Palette
Linked Open Data
Linked Open Data URI

More from artist

1937
pen and ink and charcoal on paper

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