Leon Polk Smith (1906-1996)

Leon Polk Smith was born outside Chickasha, in what was then called Indian Territory, in 1906, one year before it was incorporated into the state of Oklahoma. He was the eighth of nine children of William and Samantha Smith, both of whom were part Cherokee. Having trained to be a teacher, Leon Polk Smith travelled to New York City, at 30 years of age, in 1936 to study at Columbia University`s Teachers` College.

The New York experience was a turning point, and he never looked back. His genius in extending the boundaries of the existing geometric parameters took hard-edge minimalism to the next level. The power in the art of Brancusi and Mondrian had an early and profound effect on Leon Polk Smith and his success lay in his ability to create works which had a simple, colourful hard-edge presence.

Several critics suggested that Leon Polk Smith`s big-scale simplicity and use of biomorphic shapes influenced younger artists like Ellsworth Kelly, Jack Youngerman and Al Held, all of whom visited his studio in the mid-50s.

Leon Polk Smith had his first show in New York City at the Uptown Gallery in 1941 and thereafter was affiliated with several prominent dealers, including Charles Egan, Betty Parsons, the Stable Gallery, La Chalette, Denise Rene and Joan Washburn. His work is represented in many museums in the United States, Europe and South America. In 1992, he gave a group of 27 paintings and works on paper to the Brooklyn Museum, where they are on permanent display. The museum organized a full-scale retrospective of Mr. Smith`s work in the autumn of 1995.

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