Vorticism was an iconoclastic British art movement that attacked traditional British culture. It was formed and shaped, at least in part, in response to other art movements.
Wyndham Lewis, a founder member of the Vorticist movement, was previously a member of the commercial decorative arts studios and public showrooms, the Omega Workshops. Lewis argued with Roger Fry, who led Omega, and split from the group taking a number of artists with him. The breakaway group formed the Rebel Art Centre where Vorticism was developed.
If rebellion against Omega's genteel, decorative approach was the immediate impetus for Vorticism, its shape and substance owed a great deal to the Italian Futurist movement. Futurism was an Italian art movement led by the poet Filippo Tommaso Marinetti. On 20 February 1909 Marinetti published the first Manifesto of Futurism on the front page of the mainstream Paris newspaper Le Figaro. At the time he was the sole member of the movement.
Futurism set out to make Italy modern by attacking its traditions; to 'free Italy from her innumerable museums, which cover her like countless cemeteries'. A new beauty, which would replace traditional beauty, was found in the artefacts of modern industry and technology. Futurist imagery celebrated the power, force and speed of the machine. Futurists glorified war (the world's only hygiene) because they saw potential for freedom in its power to destroy. They admired the militarism, modernity and patriotism of Italian Fascism which, according to Marinetti, was the natural extension of Futurism.
The Vorticists were clearly influenced by Futurism but they also insisted on their differences: while Futurists celebrated the motion and speed of the modern machine, the Vorticists focused on the pure potential of its energy. Wyndham Lewis saw the 'great English vortex' as the centre of a whirlpool or the eye of the storm; Ezra Pound, a modernist poet involved in the movement saw it as the point of maximum energy.
It represents, in mechanics, the greatest efficiency. We use the words 'greatest efficiency' in the precise sense as they would in a textbook of MECHANICS.
Vorticists saw this energy as the product of both modernity and the violent boredom inspired by stagnant Victorian culture still lingering in England 14 years after Queen Victoria's death. Victorianism is portrayed as a vampire sucking the town's heart and as a gloomy circus. It stirs sentimental, nostalgic feelings which stifle the new generation.
The Vorticist journal BLAST was published only twice; BLAST: The Review of the Great English Vortex appeared in July 1914 and BLAST: War Number in July 1915. The first issue was a vehicle for the Vorticist manifesto and a long list of things to BLAST (the mild, domesticated and provincial) or BLESS (distinctly unromantic ships, English ports, bridges and hairdressers).
BLAST was a battering ram meant to blow away dead ideas and worn-out notions. Its blocks of bold text laid out on the page in new ways were the exact opposite to ornate decorative Victoriana. Its language, typeface and layout worked together in perfect bombastic unity.
The manifesto and BLAST and BLESS lists include deliberate contradictions and rhetorical oppositions; many of the things blasted are also blessed; Vorticists claim to be mercenaries (soldiers without national allegiance) without a cause; they start from opposite statements and launch their attack on both sides; they mix extreme opposites ('We only want Humour if it has fought like Tragedy;We only want Tragedy if it can clench its side-muscles like hands on its belly, and bring to the surface a laugh like a bomb). Such contradictions not only support the image of pure rebellious energy, but also distance them from Futurist nationalistic allegiance (and fascism).
Britain declared war on Germany on 4 August 1914 a month after the first BLAST was issued.? The second and final issue announced the death of Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, one of the original Vorticists, who was killed at war in the trenches. Real war exceeded the shock and violence of the Vorticists' rhetorical war and the movement quickly faded.