Beginning in the 1920s, Charles Sheeler played a central role in the development of Precisionism, a modernist movement characterized by a crisp, sharply defined style that united the desire for a distinctly American art with the lessons of the Parisian avant-garde. As was often the case, Sheeler based this painting on one of his own photographs, rendering the plant, pedestal, and lamps, as well as the variations in light and shadow, with photographic exactitude. His early sympathy with Cubism remains apparent: he transformed this seemingly straightforward document of his working life into a complex interplay of forms in a shallow, ambiguous space. Sheeler's severe and analytic approach produced a highly enigmatic image, however, as the denuded cactus, stripped of its spikes, sits forlornly beneath an unplugged light.
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