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Wassily Kandinsky: the abstract expressionist Analytical Essay

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Introduction

Wassily Kandinsky, born in 1866 in Russia was one of the pioneer abstract artists. The first pieces of paintings he created were the Improvisation and compositions in 1910. Many things influenced the working method he used. This influences include; the paintings he saw done by Monet.

He got motivation by the opera by Wagner that made him think that melody could be used to indicate shade1. He got awed by the different things he experiences in his tours. In Paris, he saw exhibitions done by different painters. While, in Munich, he studied theosophy that played a crucial role in shaping his aesthetic values.

He began his painting career by painting things that had a Russian topic. He tries to match the value of post-impressionistic process of painting with the palette.

This helps the people identify with the subject of his painting because such features art established in the local elf tales and folks songs. A good example of such work is the one seen in his painting, Composition 2. He later explains that the theme of the painting based on life in Motley2.

However, his theme of painting changed after he visited Paris. While in Paris, he got a chance to see landscape paintings. He then started painting fauvist-motivated paintings3. There was also a difference in his use of color. He shifted from the use of naturalistic and evocative colors to communicative colors.

His focused shifted from painting Russian theme based paintings to painting fauvist and landscapes. He focused more on three themes; impression, composition and improvisation. He described the paintings he made from the direct impersonation of the external environment as impression.

Improvisation, on the other hand, was the paintings he made from motivation he got from the things that happened in the spiritual level. Lastly composition was those paintings that he made based on the inspiration he got from both the improvisation and impression paintings4. However, the main reason for the development of such paintings was the long time that he spent in Munich studying anthropology.

He made his first publication on abstract painting during this time. He concerned himself with comparing colors to the day to day activities in the world. For example, he uses the yellow color to show the articulateness of different sounds on earth. Blue to compare it with the heavens and the sky. Color represented sounds and places and every color used in a painting have a different meaning5.

Abstract painting

After his stay in Munich, he settled in Germany with his mistress who was also a painter. This was where he began his journey in the world of abstract painting. This encouraged by the fact that he loved paintings, which had its lines, shapes and colors giving the inner meaning of things.

He did not want paintings that had objects that easily identified in a painting6. His main aim was to create paintings that could stir deep emotions in its viewers. However, he was not the only abstract painter at that time. There were other painters who tried to paint the same painting he was doing. This, however, changed after the World War 1. Before the war, there were many other accomplished artists who were doing abstract paintings including Cubists7.

The first prime abstract painting that earned him the title the pioneer’ was his composition 7 that he made in 1913. Encircled was another painting he made in 1911 that also proved his change of painting from recognizable to abstract things. His other significant paintings that also marked the begin of his work in painting abstract 5things were the “Landscape with Steeple”, “Improvisation XIV” With the Black Arch,” “Black Lines,” and “Autumn” and the “The Blue Rider”8.

Composition and improvisation

Most of his paintings focused on composition and improvisation. The paintings focused on the spiritual aspects of life. It was a portrayal of the spiritual affiliation of the people and nature as a whole. The three types of paintings can be explained by music analogies that go well with these themes.

It was during one of his performances that he felt conviction towards abstract. He felt that each color had a different and mystifying existence unique to itself9. Composition required a lot of mental concentration as it was motivated by the mind and other internal factors unlike the impression.

When painting the compositions, he numbered them and based each composition on a different theme. However, there were times when the themes of an improvisation and a composition matched. This can be seen in his composition 6 and improvisation Deluge. The two paintings try to present a new world or a new beginning of the old world.

Kandinsky always made sure that he never forgot about a topic or theme used in the previous paintings. He could hide a certain meaning in a painting and bring it out in the next painting. This can be seen his painting improvisation 30 and improvisation 31. In improvisation 30, he braces the topic of a sea battle, but does not make clear. He makes it clear in the next painting of an improvisation that his theme in the previous painting was sea battle10.

The painting done by Kandinsky was susceptible to change due to the changes experienced in the political, economic and social factors. Political instability during the World War 1 made Kandinsky reconsider moving back to his native country. This meant that he had to end his relationship with his mistress Gabriele Münter,11.

After resettling back in Russia, he married a younger woman and lived in Moscow. He got a job as a professor at the Moscow Academy of Fine Arts in 1918. During the times, time of the Interlude, he did not find enough time to do any substantial paintings12. He did some paintings that portrayed his change of painting style from his paintings in Munich.

His paintings characterized by water colors and canvases which were quite different from his previous paintings, where he focused mainly on landscapes.. However, he contributed to the growth of art when he built artistic institutes in different parts of the country. He started schools like; Russian Academy of Artistic Sciences and the Institute of Artistic Culture.

He also played a crucial role in the construction of museums across the country. He shifted from the unprompted, poetic, and unrefined style to a more purposeful, lucid constructional way of painting. This change was slow and it can be felt, and seen in his paintings that include the “White Line”, and “Blue Segment13.”

His life in Russia ended after the soviet government shifted its concentration form acceptable arts to social arts. Kandinsky had no other option but to leave the country. He left Moscow with his wife and went to Bauhaus. Here, he got a job as a lecturer at a local Bauhaus university. However, the university did not offer courses in non applied art, and he had to wait until 1925 before he started lecturing on non-applied painting14.

Geometric paintings and publications

While, in Bauhaus, he continued with his advance geometric abstraction. However, he was more dynamic and focused more on the aspect-filled painting area. This was like a reminder of the early paintings he had made while in Munich. During his stay in Bauhaus, he became interested in supposition, and he started publishing books and articles15.

His last pieces of paintings in Germany were the Development in Brown’. This painting thought to be targeting the Nazi brown-shirted storm troopers, who did not appreciate his paintings. They claimed that his paintings were disintegrating.

A significant change in his painting style after the First World War was the shift from the use of landscapes to blank spaces. This effect got empowered by the use of geometric dimension in the paintings. In addition to the geometric dimension, he also used standard forms and other drawings that looked like the living organisms. The messages probed the reader to search for the inner explanation of the painting16.

This was the last painting he did while he was still the citizen of Germany. The closure of the university of Bauhaus forced him to relocate to Paris France.

Here in Paris, he drew paintings that gave the public intrinsic view of the world. His paintings gave the public a chance to see the abstract things in life as separate and distinct from the ordinary things.17. He focused on using all his senses and soul during his painting. His aim was not to create pictures or decorations in his paintings, but to stir up some emotions in the public18.

His aim was to involve the viewer while painting. This could make it easier for the artist to paint and create a scenario that will capture the viewer’s attention. His use of concealed imagery in his paintings was a technique he used to reflect the state of confusion that was common in the world.

His painting in Paris was not as blooming as in the past areas where he settled. Here, people did not appreciate their presence, and the existence of abstract painting. He spent lonely hours in his apartment with his wife in the apartment. This forced him to lead a lonely life without interaction with other painters. The foreign artists he met there in Paris did not accept him as their own. The only option he had his old friends as the only art friends19.

His last evolution in the world of painting occurred in Paris. He no longer used a mixture of primary colors that were common in his past paintings. He started using supple colors that had a more sophisticated and delicate texture. This new range of color forms went in line with the forefront in Paris that always appeared to be biomorphic20.

This goes a long way to show how well he was in touch with his inner being. His paintings represented a life that was full of excitement and not one that was dull and full of boredom21. Some of the pictures he created during this time include the pictures “Sky Blue”, painted in the early 1940, “Complex-Simple”, of 1939 and the, “Colorful Ensemble”, which he painted in 1938.

Kandinsky in Paris

It was during his stay in Paris when the Second World War began. This was a period marked by scarcity in the supply of painting materials. This forced him to use less paint in paintings making the drawings shallow and pale. The situation worsened and forced him to start painting on small cardboard22.

His focused shifted once again to the theory part of abstract arts. In his publications, he said that arts put a new world, a new beginning and a fresh start on bare ground without the certainty of its existence. He tried to prove that the two worlds were not different and if given a chance can integrate in to one thing23.

Even up to his last days on earth, Kandinsky never lost the sense of his innermost feeling while painting. He drew strength from his inner being, and the abstraction arose from the determination, concision and vigor that was deep within him. Kandinsky died in 1994 in Paris, but his life spent contributing to the development of abstract art or the arts of expression24.

His work was one of the major breakthroughs in the world of abstract arts. It was one of the finest works that helped guide the beginning of a new age in the world of abstract movements. He played a leading role in the beginning of the abstract expression era of painting.

The expressionists movement

This movement emerged in the early 1940s in leading cities in the world including New York. The artists in this movement wanted to change the common believe that art was just any other thing that had no meaning. They wanted art to be seen as a way of thinking, something that could be used to pass information; a communication tool25.

The existence of abstract expression had been in existence for a long time, but the expressionists wanted people to focus on the whole process. They did experiments on how to engage themselves fully in the work of painting. They wanted to engage themselves in the whole process, feel the texture of the painting, understand the tools used and appreciate the work26.

The abstract expression that erupted in New York was commonly known as the ‘New York School’. They adopted the way of painting used by Kandinsky. They refused to use the common way of painting used in the United States of America in the past. They wanted a painting that reflected their own experiences and one that was in touch with their inner beings.

They rejected the use of social realism prevalent in the Soviet Union and the geometric abstraction. They were interested in their own individual work. However, this changes in 1943 when some of the abstract expressionists began appreciating the work done by others27.

Later on in the 1940s the different expressionist’s artists exhibited their and the work done by the pioneer abstract artists like Kandinsky in the art galleries around the country. The artists also formed groups, and started social organization where they met and shared ideas.

However, this was short lived because the onset of the cold war in early 1950s. The expressionists who were proud of the work in pure romantic and freedom, in their deeds, affected by the war. Most of the abstract expressionist artists went back into the old way of paintings that involved the use of objects and theme in their painting28.

Conclusion

Wassily Kandinsky played a crucial role in the evolution of the abstract painting. He never lost touch with the spiritual aspect of the painting. This approach applied by the expressionist in the early 1940s and 1950s. The artists always felt an inner fulfillment in the expressionist art. They use color order to represent their inner feelings and thoughts, and at the same time passing vital messages to the public.

This has not been a pleasant thing. The onsets of abstract expressionists affected by many factors, but the most common ones were the political instability29. Many up coming abstract artist have to change their residential areas during and after wars..Others that are not successful loses their lives in the war stricken countries.

Political instability causes shortage in supply of the materials required. This forces the artists to seek other alternatives that may not suit his painting style. However, most of the artist who have a passion for abstract art do not lose touch with their painting30.

Bibliography

Alberti, Leon. Alberti on Painting. Translated with Introduction and Notes, by John R. Spencer. London: Yale University Press, 1966.

Ball, Peter. Bright Earth: The Invention of Colour. London: Penguin, 2002.

Banai, Alison. Colour after Klein: Re-Thinking Colour in Modern and Contemporary Art. London: Barbican Art Gallery: Black Dog Publishing, 2005.

Bill, Max. Wassily Kandinsky. Paris: Maeght, 1951.

Bomford, Dan. Colour Pocket Guides to the National Gallery. London: National Gallery,company, Ltd,. 2000.

Bowlt, John. The Life of Vasilii Kandinsky in Russian art: a study of “On the spiritual in art” by Wassily Kandinsky. Newtonville, MA.: Oriental Research Partners, 1984.

Callen, Allan. Techniques of the Impressionists. London: Orbis Publishing, 1982.

Cennini, Cennino: The Craftsman’s Handbook, translated by Daniel P Thompson, Jr. Yale University Press, 1960.

Dabrowski, Magdalena. Kandinsky Compositions. New York: Museum of Modern Art, 2002.

Delamare, Fred. The Story of Dyes and Pigments. New York: H.N. Abrams, 2000.

Düchting, Hajo. The Avant-Garde in Russia. New York : Oxford Publishers,2009.

Düchting, Hajo. Wassily Kandinsky 1866–1944: A Revolution in Painting. Taschen, 2000.

Ferrier, John. The Fauves: The Reign of Colour: Matisse, Derain, Vlaminck, Marquet, Camoin, Manguin, Van Dongen, Friesz, Braque, Dufy. Paris: Terrail, 1992.

Gage, Janet. Color and Meaning: Art, Science, and Symbolism. Berkeley; Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1999.

Girard, Raymond. Matisse the Sensuality of Colour, New Horizons. Italia: Editoriale Libraria Trieste, 1994.

Golding, John. Paths to the Absolute: Mondrian, Malevich, Kandinsky, Pollock, Newman, Rothko and Still. London: Thames and Hudson, 2002.

Grohmann, Will. Wassily Kandinsky. Life and Work. New York: Harry N Abrams Inc., 1958.

Kahnweiler, Daniel. The Rise of Cubism in Art in Theory, 1900-2000: An Anthology of Changing Ideas. edited by Harrison, C., and Wood, P., 203-209. Oxford; Malden: Blackwell, 1949/2003

Kandinsky, Wassily. Kandinsky, Complete Writings on Art. Da Capo Press, 1996.

Kandinsky, Wassily. Klänge. Munich: Verlag R. Piper & Co.,2005.

Kandinsky, Wassily. Point and Line to Plane. Dover Publications: New York. 2005.

Kandinsky, Wassily. The Effect of Colour in Theories of Modern Art: A Source Book by Artists and Critics. edited by Chipp, H.B., Selz, P.H., and Taylor, J.C., 152-155. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1911/1996.

Klein, York. Sorbonne Lecture in Art in Theory, 1900-2000: An Anthology of Changing Ideas. edited by Harrison, C., and Wood, P., 803-806. Oxford; Malden: Blackwell, 1959/2003.

Messer, Thomas M. Vasily Kandinsky. New York: H. N. Abrams, 1997.

Michel, Henry. Seeing the Invisible, On Kandinsky. Continuum, 2009.

Overy, Paul. Kandinsky: The Language of the Eye. New York: Praeger, 1969.

Tupitsyn, Margarita. Against Kandinsky. Munich: Museum Villa Stuck, 2006.

Wassily, Kandinsky and M. T. Sadler. Concerning the Spiritual in Art. New York: MFA Publications and London: Tate Publishing, 2001.

Webber, Julian Lloyd. “Seeing red, looking blue, feeling green”, Daily Telegraph..

Weiss, Peg. Kandinsky and Old Russia. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1995.

Footnotes

1 Peg Weiss. Kandinsky and Old Russia. (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press),45.

2 Paul Overy. Kandinsky: The Language of the Eye. (New York: Praeger),89.

3 John Golding. Paths to the Absolute: Mondrian, Malevich, Kandinsky, Pollock, Newman, Rothko and Still. (London: Thames and Hudson),67.

4 Alberti Leon. Alberti on Painting. Translated with Introduction and Notes, by John R. Spencer. (New Haven; London: Yale University Press),78.

5 Alison Banai. Colour after Klein: Re-Thinking Colour in Modern and Contemporary Art. (London: Barbican Art Gallery: Black Dog Publishing),90.

6 Fred Delamare,. The Story of Dyes and Pigments.(New York: H.N. Abrams),102.

7 Max Bill. Wassily Kandinsky. (Paris: Maeght), 12.

8 Dan Bomford. Color Pocket Guides to the National Gallery. (London: National Gallery,company, Ltd),56.

9 Allan Callen. Techniques of the Impressionists. (London: Orbis Publishing),182.

10 Düchting Hajo. Wassily Kandinsky 1866–1944: A Revolution in Painting. (Shanghai:Taschen), 25.

11 Peter Ball. Bright Earth: The Invention of Color. (London: Penguin),89.

12 Alison Banai. Colour after Klein: Re-Thinking Colour in Modern and Contemporary Art. (London: Barbican Art Gallery: Black Dog Publishing), 34.

13 Cennino Cennini. The Craftsman’s Handbook, translated by Daniel P Thompson, Jr. (Yale:Yale University Press), 90.

14 Gage Janet. Color and Meaning: Art, Science, and Symbolism.( Berkeley; Los Angeles: University of California Press),123.

15 John Ferrier. The Fauves: The Reign of Colour: Matisse, Derain, Vlaminck, Marquet, Camoin, Manguin, Van Dongen, Friesz, Braque, Dufy. (Paris: Terrail), 34.

16 Raymond Girard. Matisse the Sensuality of Colour, New Horizons. (Italia: Editoriale Libraria Trieste), 107.

17 Düchting Hajo. The Avant-Garde in Russia.(New York : Oxford Publishers),78.

18 Wassily Kandinsky. Kandinsky, Complete Writings on Art. (Sydney:Da Capo Press),92.

19 Wassily Kandinsky. Point and Line to Plane. (New York: Dover Publications),39.

20 Magdalena Dabrowski. Kandinsky Compositions. (New York: Museum of Modern Art),56.

21 Daniel Kahnweiler. The Rise of Cubism in Art in Theory, 1900-2000: An Anthology of Changing Ideas, edited by Harrison, C., and Wood, P., 203-209. (Oxford; Malden: Blackwell),94.

22 Henry Michel. Seeing the Invisible. On Kandinsky.(London: Continuum),67.

23 Margarita Tupitsyn. Against Kandinsky.(Munich: Museum Villa Stuck),99.

24 Wassily Kandinsky. Concerning the Spiritual in Art. (New York: MFA Publications and London: Tate Publishing), 45.

25 John Bowlt. The Life of Vasilii Kandinsky in Russian art: a study of “On the spiritual in art” by Wassily Kandinsky. (Newtonville, MA.: Oriental Research Partners),78.

26 Thomas Messer. Vasily Kandinsky. (New York: H. N. Abrams), 38.

27 Wassily Kandinsky. Klänge. (Munich: Verlag R. Piper & Co.),97.

28 Klein York. Sorbonne Lecture in Art in Theory, 1900-2000: An Anthology of Changing Ideas, edited by Harrison, C., and Wood, P., 803-806. (Oxford; Malden: Blackwell), 134.

29 Alison Banai. Colour after Klein: Re-Thinking Colour in Modern and Contemporary Art. (London: Barbican Art Gallery: Black Dog Publishing),187.

30 Wassily Kandinsky. The Effect of Colour in Theories of Modern Art: A Source Book by Artists and Critics, edited by Chipp, H.B., Selz, P.H., and Taylor, J.C., 152-155. (Berkeley: University of California Press),78.

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