August 1, 2014

Wassily Kandinsky

Wassily Kandinsky (Russia/France)
1866-1944 Kandinsky was born in Moscow to Lidia Ticheeva and Vasily Silvestrovich Kandinsky, the latter of whom worked as a tea merchant. As a child Kandinsky spent much of his time in Odessa.

      He enrolled at the University of Moscow, studying law and economics, and in 1889 was asked to be part of an ethnographic research group which traveled to the Vologda region north of Moscow. The later experience, as he relates in Looks on the Past, highly influenced his concern with color, as he encountered the highly folk decorated houses and churches, as well as the region’s folk art.

      Kandinsky was soon offered a professorship (chair of Roman Law) at the University of Dorpat. But in 1896, at the age of 30, he gave up his promising career to enroll in art school in Munich, having witnessed an exhibit of Monet’s paintings in Moscow just prior to his leaving.

     Influenced by Richard Wagner’s opera Lohengrin as well as the theosophical writings of H. P. Blavatsky, Kandinsky applied what he had discovered in his own art, expressing the geometrical relationships of circles, triangles, and squares in two groundbreaking books, Concerning the Spiritual in Art (1910) and Point and Line to Plane (1926). Increasingly, during this period, the young artist moved from recognizable images to increasingly abstract figures, balanced by color and form.

      Among the most important of these early paintings was “The Blue Rider” of 1903, which shows a cloaked rider in a rush of form and shadows, a work reconceived in the even more abstract “Reiter” of 1911. That same year, 1903, Kandinsky published a collection of woodcuts he titled Verses without Words, linking his images with lyrical poetry.

     From 1906-1908 the painter spent a significant period traveling through Europe as an associated of the Blue Rose symbolist Russian group.      Beginning with “Reiter” Kandinsky paintings more and more represented a series of forms and lines that would come to define the art of Der Blaue Reiter group, whose members published literature and art in Der Blaue Reiter almanac.

     In 1909 Kandinsky had helped to found the Neue Künservereinigung Münich (The Munich New Artists’ Association), for which he served as president. Increastingly, however, the group could no longer tolerate his own art or that of others such as Alexei von Jawlensky, Marianne von Werefkin, Franz Marc, Lyonel Feininger, August Macke, and Gabriele Münter, and Paul Klee, figures with whom Kandinsky founded Der Blue Reiter in reaction. The “movement” lasted from 1911 to 1914], becoming fundamental to German Expressionism.

     In late 1912, Kandinsky published a proto-artist’s book, Klänge (Sounds) containing his poems and woodcuts. The artist had begun writing prose-poems in 1908, composing 38 such works between that year and the publication of the 1912 gallery edition. Kandinsky described it as an attempt to uncover the “pure sound” of language, the sound which “sets the soul vibrating.” “We fought for painting, but painting alone will not suffice. I had the idea of a synthetic book that removed half of the old, narrow conceptions, breaking down the walls between the arts…and finally prove that the problem of art is not a problem of form but a problem of spiritual content.”

     In 1913, the poems were published under the German imprint of Piper Verlag as Souns, accompanied by color and black-and-white woodcuts.

     In 1914, Kandinsky returned to Russia, becoming involved with the cultural politics of Russia, while collaborating in art education and museum reform. In 1921, he was invited to return to Germany by the Bauhaus founder, Walter Gropius.

     In Weimar’s Bauhaus school Kandinsky conducted painting classes and a workshop in which he developed his color theory he would express throughout the rest of his life.

     In 1923, with Klee, Feininger, and Jawlensky, Kandinsky become one of Die Blaue Vier (Blue Four) which lectured and exhibited in the United States in 1926. The Bauhaus, meanwhile, moved from the increasingly rightist Weimar to Dessau in 1925, dissolving, after Nazi verbal attacks, in July 1933. Kandinsky left Germany, settling permanently in Paris and becoming a French citizen in 1939.

    Throughout his Paris years Kandinsky continued to develop theories about art and to produce some of his most important paintings. In died in Neuilly-sur-Seine in 1944.




Stichi bez slov (Verses without Words [woodcuts], 1903); Klänge (Munich: self-published, 1912; published as Sous (Munich: Piper Verlag, 1913).



Blue, Blue got up, got up and fell.
Sharp, Thin whistled and shoved, but didn’t get through.
From every corner came a humming.
FatBrown got stuck—it seemed for all eternity.
-------------------------------It seemed. It seemed.
You must open your arms wider.
-------------------------------Wider. Wilder.
And you must cover your face with red cloth.
And maybe it hasn’t shifted yet al all; it’s just that you’ve shifted.
White leap after white leap.
And after this white leap. In every white leap a white leap.
But that’s not good at all, that you don’t see the gloom; in the gloom is
-----------where it is.
That’s where everything begins. ………………………….
With a………………………………Crash………………..


(from Klänge, 1912).

-Translated by Mary Ann Caws

I shall find you in the deep heights.
Where the smooth pricks.
Where the sharp cannot cut.
You hold the ring in your left hand.
I hold the ring in my right.
Neither sees the chain.
But these things are the last links in the chain.

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