WASSILY KANDINSKY (1866-1944)
'Composition IV', 1911 (oil on canvas)
Kandinsky's painting was moving away from the depiction of realistic forms into the more spiritual realms of abstraction. Since childhood he had studied music, playing both the piano and cello. He also had a highly developed sense of synaesthetic response (experiencing colors in response to hearing sounds) and he recognized that color could trigger our emotions much in the same way as music touches our soul. This link between the visual and the aural inspired his experiments with color as an abstract element for the subject of a painting. The idea was reinforced by a chance experience in 1908, 'I was returning, immersed in thought from my sketching, when on opening the studio door I was suddenly confronted by a picture of incandescent beauty. Bewildered, I stopped and stared at it. The painting lacked all subject, depicted no identifiable object and was entirely composed of bright color patches. Finally, I approached closer and saw it for what it really was - my own painting, standing on its side on the easel.....One thing became clear to me: that objectiveness, the depiction of objects, needed no place in my paintings, and was indeed harmful to them.'
In his publication, of 1911, 'Concerning the Spiritual in Art' he states that 'Color cannot stand alone; it cannot dispense with boundaries of some kind ........A never-ending extent of red can only be seen in the mind; when the word red is heard, the color is evoked without definite boundaries.'
His paintings of this period are attempts to release this psychic quality of color by freeing it from the task of describing physical objects. In moving towards abstraction by breaking down the boundaries of realistic forms, Kandinsky tries to tap into the more expressive power of color as it exists in the mind. Although, as in the musically and abstractly titled 'Composition IV' above, there are still vague references to figures and objects in the landscape, color emerges as an ephemeral force that energizes the entire canvas.
Kandinsky was the first artist to push painting towards total abstraction. He is quoted as saying, "Of all the arts, abstract painting is the most difficult. It demands that you know how to draw well, that you have a heightened sensitivity for composition and for colors, and that you be a true poet. This last is essential."
PAUL KLEE (1879-1940)
'Ad Parnassum', 1932 (oil on board)
Paul Klee, a Swiss artist, took part in the second Der Blaue Reiter exhibition. Through the influence of Kandinsky, Marc and Macke, Klee became interested in the abstract use of color. Klee, like Kandinsky was a talented musician and the relationship between art and music was a driving force in his art. The painting above illustrates this link between the arts.
The title 'Ad Parnassum' (towards Parnassus) refers to both Mount Parnassus (the home of the Muses - the nine goddesses of the arts in Greek mythology) and 'Gradus Ad Parnassum' (the Path to Parnassus - the name of a classic 18th century textbook on musical counterpoint). The bold triangle at the top of the picture represents Mount Parnassus, the orange circle symbolizes the sun and the arch at the bottom indicates the door to the temple. The most important element of this painting is the way that Klee uses color to express a musical idea. The underpainted patches of background colors are like the deep base chords of a musical composition while the brighter mosaic-like surface of dots act like a counterpoint to complete the harmony.