Vorticism, Britain’s early 20th century avant-garde movement, never caught the same critical or academic fire as its aesthetic siblings Futurism, Cubism, and Constructivism. Like its more successful relations, Vorticism exemplified inter-media artistry (poetry, novels, paintings, sculpture) but found its evolution cut short by World War I. Its founders and fiercest advocates, Canadian born portraitist/critic Wyndham Lewis & American poet Ezra Pound, admired unsavory political figures (Hitler, Mussolini) and advocated then disavowed the war machine and antisemitism. Lewis loathed mass culture but the two (and only) volumes of BLAST!, which contain Vorticism’s most coherent statements of aesthetic purpose, anticipate commercial pop art and modern advertising with the use of text as visual art.
If they had only seriously considered theatrical performance, Lewis and Pound might have found the best medium to merge language, action, and social commentary. Lucky for Durham, the Vorticist retrospective at Duke University’s Nasher Museum will try to rectify this gap in the movement. Not with a production of Lewis’ unstageable script Enemy of the Stars (1932). But with the world-premiere of a new work, Western Men, commissioned from award-winning playwright Adam Sobsey and produced by Durham’s own Little Green Pig Theatrical Concern with generous support from the Duke University College of Arts & Sciences Collaborative Grant.
Western Men is part biographical study, tracing the friendship and intertwining careers of Lewis and Pound from pre-WWI Britain until the late 1950s. Western Men also enacts scenes from Shakespeare’s rarely performed tragedy Timon of Athens, which Lewis visually annotated between 1911-1913. Finally, Western Men creates an Vorticist-inspired musical landscape of Country-Western, Punk rock, Elvis in Vegas, and Dylan unplugged that will BLAST your ears and your senses.