A lot of my work is influenced by artists who have a more abstract and surreal style, such as Picasso with cubism, Dali with surrealism, Kandinsky with abstract and Miro with a mix of styles, some of which can be seen in a more sculptural and tactile format within Antoni Gaudi’s architecture. While their artistic styles were inspired by many variable things such as shape and colours interaction with each other, it can’t be ignored the powerful influence their personal circumstances had upon their work in relation to social, economic or political unrest. Their work was influenced by and a reaction to the social milieu of their time. While many of the artists referenced are part of the modernist movement overall, each was separately influenced by circumstances individual to them such as the political and social setting, with variations of time reflective of the advancement of each art movement within modernism from early 20s Wassily Kandinsky to the late 60s and Joan Miro and therefore are representative of different eras and aspects of modernism.
Wassily Kandinsky (1866 –1944), the father of modern abstract painting, was a Russian painter and art theorist who wrote the influential ‘Point and Line to Plane’. He spent his formative years in Tsarist Russia, was working in Germany at the outbreak of World War I, was present in Moscow during the Bolshevik revolution and worked in Weimar at a time which saw the rise of the Nazism in Europe. He witnessed radical cultural, political and economic change. He trained originally as a lawyer and was a lecturer in law but resigned in 1896 to move to Munich to study art. He was influenced by Monet’s use of colour and the idea of using colour as an emotional element of the composition in its own right rather than a literal depiction of nature. While in Germany his artistic style developed and became increasingly abstract. Part of his artistic motivation was derived from his time in Bavaria in 1889 where he equated his experience of the architecture of the Baroque chapels to that of being in a picture (something that Antoni Gaudi managed with his architecture, turning buildings into sculptural art pieces such as La Pedera, La Casa Batilio and La Sagrada Familia). Kandinsky wanted to allow the viewer to, ‘stroll around within the picture, to force him to forget himself, and so to become part of the picture’.
This simplistic imagery of a horse and rider (Image 1) are reduced to a few lines, much as Miro would later do in his art. The background is also implied instead of detailed as you might expect, another startling difference from more conventional painting is the use of blue for the ground, green for the sky and red for clouds, none of these being the expected colours. While green and blue are analogous to each other the use of red a primary colour is very noticeable. The trees are also simplified to black lines that give the impression of trees but in no way are realistic and also lean to the side a little as if swept by the gust of wind that the speed of the horse that the fluidity of the strokes of the horse convey.
Image 1 Wassily Kandinsky, 1911, Reiter (Lyrishes), oil on canvas, 94 x 130 cm, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam, Netherlands
With the outbreak of World War I Kandinsky was required to leave Germany and so he moved back to Moscow where he concentrated on teaching and promoting art. His political and cultural opinions were at odds with the newly established Bolshevik government, however, and his art was considered too Bourgeois and individualistic for those in the Constructivist and Suprematism movements as he didn’t conform precisely to the utopian geometric style that had been adopted by his contemporaries such as Kazimir Malevich (Image 2) and was popular with the Russian avant-garde which embraced a more monochromatic style. Kandinsky could be said to have evolved his work from the father of neoplasticism, Pieter Cornelis Mondriaan, whose style was rigid and geometric like those in the later constructionist and Suprematism movements but who embraced and is famed for the use of more colours like Kandinsky did instead of more monochromatic tones. Kandinsky’s works are an extension of this with the work breaking away from the more strict regimental linear style to a more fluid motion representative of the fluidity of music.
He would also have been partially influenced by his friendship with Paul Klee during both of their tenures at the Bauhaus. Both of them are seen as fathers of modernism and while on the surface their styles seem very complimentary, Klee embraced a surreal realism, whereas Kandinsky strove for a more idealistic representation driven by his synaesthesia – the capacity to see sound and hear colour, which gave him a different outlook on the world and explains why music and spiritualism played a large part in his works.
Image 2: Suprematist Composition by Kazimir Malevic, 1915, Oil on Canvas
1922 saw him move to teach in the faculty of Weimar Bauhaus following an invitation from its founder Walter Gropius. During his Bauhaus period (1922-1933) his works continue to advance from what was seen as radical by his Russian counterparts and continues to show how, while influenced by the Constructivism and Suprematism movements, the sympathetic environment of the Bauhaus allowed him to further his studies in art theory and reflect this in his works. As a synesthete Kadinsky experienced colours as sounds and he translates this effect into his art by representing the musical transition of the song to lines moving wildly about. This is a strong influence overall displayed within his works such as Composition 8 (July 1923) so much so that the viewer is overwhelmed by the noise of the image as you journey through it. The musical metaphor is apparent again in the use of the word ‘composition’ in the title. The colourful, geometric forms appear to pulsate creating a surface that at times is dynamic and aggressive and yet also calm. Composition 8 also shows the emergence of circles featuring in his works, and the more important role they would later play in many of his works such as ‘Circles in a Circle’ from 1923.
Image 3: Composition 8, Wassily Kandinsky, July 1923, Oil on Canvas
Another artist, whose work acts in a similar vein as Kandisnky is Joan Miró 1893 –1983, For both artists, it could be argued that less is more, with many of their more famous works being a mix of what at first glance could be mistaken for blobs of colour and lines. A Catalan artist born in Barcelona, Miró grew up surrounded by the fantastical art nouveau structures created by Antoni Gaudi. His early influences included Cezanne and Dadaism. He was living in Paris at the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War and he railed against what he viewed as the commercialism of bourgeois Cubism used as a weapon of propaganda and pseudo nationalism, and in particular the works of Picasso.
After World War II Miró was widely acclaimed and his work was exhibited and commissioned in America.
In 1967 Joan Miró completed ‘The Gold of the Azure’ (Image 4) following a 1966 trip to Japan for an exhibition of his work. The piece with its stark contrast of 2 primary colours of blue and yellow are contrasted not only in colour but in composition, with the strong bold yellow that surrounds the ‘azure’ of blue composed of small spiral rotations with a fine brush and as can be seen from the pale white poking through is painted directly onto the white of the canvas. This white is used throughout the mass of blue to add luminosity but also from the halo of white Miro left surrounding the mass of blue.
A common occurrence in many of Miro’s works, are the simplistic lines representative of birds, women and men. In The Gold of the Azure’ there is the added element of stars, planets and astral configurations.
Image 4: The Gold of the Azure – Joan Miró, Oil on Canvas, 1967 – Abstract Expressionism and Surrealism
Image 5: Paysage animé, Joan Miro 1970 – Animated landscape Acrylic and oil on canvas
1970 saw the creation of ‘Paysage Animé’ (Figure 5) which is full of movement and activity, drawing the viewer’s eye to no one defined area of the image. This impression of movement is due to the numerous plain lines across the surface along with the various dabs of colour. This basic structure is composed of brushstrokes, dribbles of paint, and drops that fell from the artists brush as he worked.
Works such as Catalan Landscape (The Hunter) (Image 6) and Harlequin’s Carnival (Image 7) from round the early 1920s show Miró’s initial venture into Surrealism, with a similar style to Kandinsky however his works also have a Dali-esque theme such as with the Tilled Field (Image 8).
When you compare The Hunter and The Tilled Field, you notice similarities in where some of the forms are placed, however the subject of those forms has been altered. Reality has been further left behind as he progressed from his previous works. With the farm as a basis, you can see the circular base of the tree has changed into a simple symbol for a tree, represented as a slightly irregular circle marked by a simple black point connected to a diagonal line projected outwards and connected to one solitary leaf and like his work in The Tilled Field, this representation of a tree also has an eye growing from it. To the left of this eye in The Hunter is a human-esque stick like figure also reminiscent of the cactus shaped tree in The Tilled Field. This figure gives the painting its name and is the hunter of the title, seen wearing a traditional Catalan hat.
Image 6: Catalan Landscape – The Hunter, 1924, Oil on Canvas
Image 7 – Harlequins Carnival by Joan Miro, 1925, Oil on Canvas
Image 8: The Tilled Field by Joan Miro, 1923, oil on canvas
For myself as an artist, I like the use of symbolism to build up a picture layered with hidden meaning or open to an array of interpretation or question. Art should make you stop and think and for Kandinsky, Miró, Picasso and Dali their works do. Symbolism played a great part, with Picasso’s Guernica a great example of symbolism in art, the eye almost watching over proceedings much like in Miró’s Catalan Landscape and The Tilled Field.
Kandinsky used the circle often for symbolism as the circle according to him is the ‘synthesis of the greatest oppositions. It combines the concentric and the excentric in a single form, and in equilibrium’ it acts as a uniting central feature point and breaks away from his Russian contemporaries more straight suprematism style. Each of these artists took a standard mould and broke it, breaking new ground and leading the way for modern art.
This movement of modernism influences me as I like how art can then be converted into more sculptural pieces and architectural art. Like the arts fluidity on canvas I like how it can be fluid in its representation, going from something solely visual to a more tactile, visual feast.
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