NARRATOR: Buoyant passages of red and fractured green-blue forms dominate this 1918 canvas by Stanton MacDonald-Wright. On the eve of World War I, Macdonald-Wright and fellow artist Morgan Russell produced some of the earliest abstract, nonobjective paintings in American Art. Their vanguard style, which Russell coined “Synchronism,” correlated art and music, color and sound. Part of the vibrant community of American expatriates living in Paris before the outbreak of World War I, the two artists believed that colors were analogous to musical notes, and that a painterly composition was like a symphony of color and form. As Macdonald Wright explained, “Whenever man had a desire for heavenly intoxication, he turned to music. Yet color is just as capable as music of providing us with the highest ecstasies and delights.”
The artist described the arrangement of forms in this painting as being inspired by and loosely based upon a group of figures smoking opium, including himself. In the prewar period, many artists were fascinated with the Orient and with what they perceived as exotic. Though not a widely known name today, Stanton Macdonald-Wright was a pioneer of Abstract American art.