Analysis of The Abstract Work of Wassily Kandinsky

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Wassily Kandinsky known as the “father of abstract art” created paintings where inspiration and imagination ultimately formed the painting itself. He used colour to represent a spirituality influenced hugely by music. However, it was after being exposed to Monet’s “haystacks” and its use of colour potential that he found true inspiration to pursue a career in art as the unfinished quality of this Impressionist painting triggered his interest in the colour work of the painting which not only impressed but haunted him “ineradicably on my memory”.

Kandinsky’s art is ultimately concerned with the spiritual and Kandinsky claimed he was painting sounds to achieve this. A book published by him in 1912 titled “Concerning the Spiritual in Art” summarises how different colours create different sounds and also quotes that the “sound of colours is so definite”. If this is Kandinsky’s ethos then it can be assumed that he’s suggesting there is something innate within us allowing us to synthesise colours with sounds.

This argument raises the topic of Synesthesia, a greek word considering a neurological phenomenon where two or more senses converge. For example this ability would allow one to visualise sounds or taste colours. Undeniably there is almost a magical quality to the concept of synesthesia, however this same magical quality is also seen in Kandinsky’s paintings, therefore the suggestion that he possessed this quality cannot be ignored. Reports from synesthetes state that his paintings are well balanced in terms of musical composition and he often titled works after music terms such as “Composition 8”.

On White II 1923

“On White II” is undoubtedly a true representation of what Kandinsky believed Art to be. Imaginative, abstract, geometrical but at the same time spiritual and is said to represent life and opportunity. Kandinsky has cleverly used colour to play with “eye movement” to create this dynamic piece. The central black creates the initial focal point and draws our eye to the centre of the painting. Black portrays the dark nature of the universe and the terminal death, however this colour projects out to the rest of the painting and our focus shifts to the vibrant colours. Opposing this the white represents the peace and silence of the earth whilst also representing the endless possibilities in life. “

On White II” adapts an intelligent combination of these two key colours. The white canvas contrasted against the rigid shapes of colour resembles a white light being reflected against a prism and splitting up to display a whole spectrum of colours as a metaphor for the endless possibilities in life. Although the shapes used in this painting contribute to its make-up, I would argue that without the colours our perception would be hugely different. Imagine this painting purely in black and white, the spirituality of the painting which is a huge focal point in his art; “Colour is a power which directly influences the soul” is completely lost.

Considering the term Synesthesia, the painting could be viewed from a different angle in terms of the musical sensation of colours. If the colour intertwines with the senses, the painting could be Kandinsky’s execution of a musical note with the black representing a harsh chord striking through the page.

Blue Mountain 1908

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Kandinsky links yellow with human energy: “ The first movement of yellow… have a material parallel in the human energy which assails every obstacle blindly, and bursts forth aimlessly in every direction.” “For Kandinsky, yellow and blue are the core instances of “warm” and “cool””. Most colour theorists would not disagree that blue is the most representative “cool” colour however it is Kandinsky’s choice of yellow as the “warm” colour which is slightly more unusual, his theory deriving primarily from the idea that there is a link between warmth and light with yellow essentially being the lightest colour apart from white. Clearly we can observe that in “Blue Mountain” Kandinsky draws our eyes to the primary colours blue and yellow, standing out in the landscape as harsher, bolder colours against the other secondary hues. Furthermore, the blue colour recedes into the background, allowing us to naturally visualise the mountain as further away in the distance.

The receding effect of the mountain is elevated by the yellow in the foreground which moves out the picture plane and towards the viewer. “Kandinsky’s vibrant palette and expressive brushwork provide the viewer with a sense of hope rather than despair.” – During this stage of his career, “St John’s book of Revelation” became a significance in Kandinsky’s artwork and the riders in “The Blue Mountain” signify the four horsemen of the apocalypse. “The horsemen, although an indicator of the mass destruction of the apocalypse, also represent the potential for redemption afterward.” due to the vibrant colours and strong lines inspired by Russian folk art within the painting. Thus, Kandinsky has used the manipulation of colour to allow the spectator to perceive the meaning of this painting in a positive light.

For Hans Hofmann it was no struggle to toss aside the traditional rulings of art and to adopt styles from Cubism and begin creating pieces representing the subconscious. His teachings in New York influenced many artists such as Jackson Pollock, someone who ended up working with Hofmann exploring the “drip painting” technique. As an artist he strived to refrain from having an end result in mind, therefore always keeping his work alive, relying on his intuition and remaining spiritually connected to nature.

Pompeii 1959

Clearly the most prominent colours here are the warm oranges and reds which symbolise the heat but also the destruction and danger of the volcanic eruption in Pomepii.

Like other ‘slab’ works (the name used for the paintings of rectangles that the artist began making in the eighth decade of his life) Pompeii is a collection of vertical and horizontal slabs, each its own solid colour, floating on the canvas. We can see a sort of logic in this painting, with rectangles that almost overlap and are gathered and stacked in ways that suggest a play with modular construction.

But I would argue that this logic does disapear, above and below the slabs, in open seas of colour are aqua blue spreads out in thick, oily smears, and blurry patches of reds and browns offer only the barest hints of geometry. Small daubs and dots of bright colour – green, orange, royal blue, red – hover at the interstices of various passages. Hofmann has used colour here to disrupt the chaos of the heat emitted from the volcanic eruption by taking a cool calming blue that changes the way we perceive this painting.

Influenced enormously by the War, John Piper had an eye for appreciating the beauty in the devastating horror left by the Blitz. Using the power of colour he creates an atmosphere around the buildings in his work that resembles the powerful effect which the War had on thousands of lives. How we perceive his work is hugely affected by this use of colour because he captures what we don’t see in landscapes but what we feel.

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