CreditsDirector: Carlos Vilardebo Writers/Narration: André Parinaud: Carlos Vilardebo
Catalog number # 497
53 minutes Color
Age Range: 15 to Adult
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Read by his wife, Nina, here are some excerpts from Wassily Kandinsky's book, "Looking Back on the Past," written in 1913. "And once again, black. And on the water, a long, terrible black stick with a black box in the middle. We were climbing into a gondola, at night. That was probably when he was a boy and his impressions when he spent 3 years in Venice. Thus, from early childhood on, the magnetism of color imposed itself on Kandinsky's eye. "It's sheer joy for me to see a horse like this in the streets of Munich. It comes every summer when the streets are watered down."
Kandinsky recalls the first years of his stay in Germany. He brings back the blue streetcars, which ran along the streets and the yellow boxes with their vibrant canary songs.
It was pure happenstance and it worked on Kandinsky as a revealing shock. He relates that, once, going back to his studio at dusk, lost in his dreams and absorbed by his work, he saw a painting of indescribable beauty.
"It was one of my own paintings resting against a wall. The next day, I tried to retrieve in daylight the impression I had felt the day before while looking at the painting. I only half succeeded. Even looking at it sideways, I kept recognizing the objects. The object was working against my paintings." You know, I wasn't there at the time. What I know is what he wrote. Hess: It's a long story and it's pretty well known: it starts with Cezanne, then Picasso's little cubes, you enlarge the cubes and you've got an abstraction In "Painting as a Pure Art," Kandinsky comments on his historical vision of painting. The first period, he says, is necessarily realistic. "It is easier to paint nature," he claims, "than to fight against it." Evolution in the way the eye looks leads to a second period, the esthetic logic of which leads painters to become less interested in what they show than in the way they show it.
Thus, Dutch still lives are transformed through Chardin, Cezanne and the Cubists. In the third period, art reaches its ultimate point. Painting speaks to the mind.
As far as Kandinsky is concerned, a painting's life stems from form and not from content. That is obvious in architecture and in music. In France, the trails of art lead to abstraction through practice and the craft's own logic.
That's what Cezanne, Braque and Picasso did.
In Germany, on the other hand, philosophers and theologians sparked the new awareness.
Kant's idea was: "Comprehension gets the upper hand over instinct. Voringer also said: "Form must be approached as an intention, not an end result. The issue now is the will to do rather than the capacity to do."
Henceforth, where reasoning is concerned, art is a specific language with its own laws. The purpose of a painting is no longer to show the world as faithfully as possible but to jell man's relationship with the world.
Three painters then appeared. Much like monks, each walked his own way. Wassily Kandinsky, who considers color as an absolute factor; Piet Mondrian, for whom reduction of geometrical form becomes a means to reach pureness;
Casimir Malevitch who, denying everything, nationalizes forms and colors all the way to vertigo on the edge of a void.
Kandinsky is 45 in 1911 when he proclaims the power of color and decides to free it from representation of any kind. Kandinsky's palette is remarkably large for he never repeated himself in any color. He made a special color composition for each painting. That's why you'll never find the same red twice. Forms, for that matter, are just as different. Says he: "In the middle of the palette lives an extraordinary world of colors already used." What he stresses mainly is: "Emotion is not an instinct. It's an inner voice." So you know how it happened His impressions.
Kandinsky recalls in his book the visit he paid to the French impressionists' exhibition in Moscow.
I believe it was in '96, I'm not sure. He told me about it.
He stopped dead before a painting by Claude Monet and wrote: "Suddenly, for the first time, I was looking at a painting. I read the catalogue to find out it was a painting of a mussel. I couldn't recognize it."
Kandinsky realizes that the object is lacking in the painting and that the only thing showing is the palette's unsuspected power. Later, listening to Wagner's Lohengrin, Kandinsky feels that he has discovered a new truth: "painting, just like music, can express the artist's spiritual life."
He then asks himself the question: "Doesn't a painter have the right to go further and be as free in his compositions as composers are?"
"The violins, the deep bassoons and particularly all the wind instruments revealed to me the overwhelming beauty of this works. It was as if I could see all my colors."
Kandinsky moved to Munich in 1895. He's figurative at first, though visibly attracted by themes born of inner impulses and transitory emotions. He painted romantic things in the beginning. You know, it might have been some kind of nostalgia for Russia. He often painted themes from Russian folk tales.
Russian folk images influenced him. He drew his inspiration from them to express the love he still feels for his native city of Moscow. Kandinsky always learned something from his travels. He goes back to Russia, goes on to Tunisia, to Italy. His brushstroke had become tense, quick and laden with lightning when he reached Paris in 1905, just as Fauvisra and pure color were triumphing. In 1908 and 1909, he lived in Murnau, a small town near Munich. That's where the shock produced by color is going to bust form apart.
He discovers the three laws of his painting. In the small churches of Bavaria, he recalled a trip he had made to Siberia where he had stepped into an isba with painted furniture. "I was surrounded by paintings on all sides," he said. The lesson he learned from that was the person looking at a painting had to be given the impression that he was inside the painting. A Rembrandt painting revealed the second law. He realized that looking at one part of the play of light and shadows and then at the other incorporated a new component into the painting: that of time. Then he remembered his contact with music and came to understand that painting should likewise be a language. All the elements in Kandinsky's research are now together. Only one abysmal question remains:
What can be object be replaced by?
He focuses on color, so powerful, he says, that the immaterial can be felt through it: everything that "is" betwixt objects. He draws a law of "utter necessity" from it: "I understood that the outside had to develop from the inside, or else it was still-born." That's when, in 1910, Kandinsky painted the first painting recognized as abstract, a watercolor. He generally worked on a single painting rather than several at a time. He told me that he never started a painting before it was clear enough in his mind.
Suddenly, he had some kind of vision. That's when he did his drawing and afterwards sketched out the outline of the painting, immediately marking the colors.
o pictorial means at the time gave the possibility of transposing these creative elements.
Said Kandinsky: "We know what we want to do more than we know how to do it. That's how, little by little, he established the laws behind his work. He enrolled in the Amsterdam School of Fine Arts in 1892 against his father's advice, probably with the feeling he was sinning. He felt this as a break from his entire life. At the School of Fine Arts, he learned to copy nature, as the saying goes. His palette is heavy: he likes to paint stormy night skies and moonlighted scenes. He also expresses his anxiety, his troubles and the weight of Protestantism which hinders expression. Early in 1909, Mondrian joins the Theosophical Society whose morals and ideas bring him peace of heart and even influence his art.
Theosophical ideas are based on.
Theosophy endeavors to discern the universe's hidden laws. It favors direct union with God and lays down rules for living in communion with nature. The totality of theosophical thinking is directed both towards perfection and the future. What help could Mondrian hope to find in his switch from rigorous Protestantism to theosophy?
That's a difficult question. He found in theosophy a parallel with his own research. In fact he was searching for a form of art freed from what is seen in nature, yet linked to nature.
Soon, the way he looks at things, as a painter, is going to be transformed by his inner evolution. There's an extraordinary painting, a triptych which shows three, let's say one woman in three different attitudes, that is a religious, theosophical painting, no doubt about it.
Maybe he let himself be inspired by theosophy through the eyes and soul of a painter rather than as a real theosophist.
In any event, it makes it clear that Mondrian's painting is symbolist painting.
Though nature remains the starting point of Mondrian's painting, he also tries to pull free of it. A church, a lighthouse, a tree, a mill are painted tirelessly and gradually "denatured," deprived of reality.
In 1912, he goes to Paris, discovers the cubists and, with them, the formula for separating form from the concrete. He goes back once again to his usual subjects and begins a long series of research which will lead him to absolute simplification of form. The way things happened is clear. There's a beautiful series, it's well known, of Mondrian paintings which are variations on a theme, particularly the famous series of trees, apple trees in blossom. He even tried different styles and little by little arrived to what he considered to be essential, namely the geometric forms which were to him the very essence of the tree. He lived in Rue des Departs while in Paris. And he liked the lines and surfaces of this facade here. You see here how he took a facade at the beginning of the Rue des Departs as it happens, and made an almost abstract painting of it. It's called "The Facade" or "Composition."
Mondrian reduces forms to geometry and discovers that the sign expresses far more than the object. It becomes a mere composition. But on this facade, which he saw from his studio, there was a big advertising poster for Kub, some kind of French condensed soup, I believe, and there, you can still see traces of the letters he liked because of their lines and form. He also used the sea as a theme, developing it with this jetty in the water, but he was so fascinated by light, the play of light, that he ended up doing paintings which he called Plus/Minus. By using plus and minus signs in his composition, Mondrian tries to create a plastic fascination as if it were magic symbolism.
And after that, little by little, he analyzes, if it can be called that, the whole of nature according to two directions only: horizontal and vertical. After a time there won't be, there won't be in his paintings anything but vertical and horizontal lines. It's a geometrical symbolism, which he explained very well himself. He explained that vertical lines had a given meaning for him while horizontal lines had another. There's an opposition, for instance, between the masculine and the feminine. Though his paintings which represent, which are rectangles, the only thing in opposition with white is black, and only three colors are left: pure red, pure blue and pure yellow. Well, with means so extraordinarily sober, with such an economy of means, everything comes through.
A refugee in the United States during the war, Mondrian discovers with a remarkably youthful mind the enchanting side of New York, whose buildings stand much like a demonstration of his neo-plastic theories. He suddenly breaks with austerity. He reacts to boogie-woogie as if he were under a spell. The black lines of his paintings change into clear lines and blue and red signs. His composition seems to follow a syncopated rhythm. This hectiness, which in the later part of his life comes to dominate Mondrian's hand, Casimir Malevitch felt it too. Malevitch's exact birthdate is not known. Born of an illiterate Russian mother, his father was probably Polish, Malevitch takes part in the 1905 revolution. He became one of the moving forces of the Russian avant-garde. His large brush strokes draw their inspiration both from Fauvism and German expressionism.
His titles reveal his preoccupations: "Man with a Spade," "Floor waxers." Malevitch works as of 1910 with the revolutionary movements in Russian art but hasn't yet found a niche for his exuberant nature. I believe Malevitch should be inserted in the highly-interesting movement of Russian Futurism. Malevitch's early works are reminiscent of Fernand Leger. Soon, he not only breaks down space but plays with forms and objects like his writer friends do with words and ideas. The thing is to find a richer language which borrows from every form of thought. "An Englishman in Moscow" with its Futurist influence and "Woman at a Streetcar Stop" reflecting cubist influence are a good illustration of his research. Malevitch oscillates between these two schools and qualifies himself as a "Cubo-Futurist." In fact, Malevitch is a nihilist. Malevich denounces what he calls "al-logism": a cow and a violin, "al-logic" collision of two forms, the violin and the cow, illustrate the instant of struggle between logic, natural law, common sense and bourgeois prejudice. He rejects all concepts.
You know it and you suffer from it. To be governed is to be arrested, inspected, spied on, directed, submitted to laws, regulated, parked, indoctrinated, preached at, controlled, esteemed. Russian avant-garde, as a matter of fact, wants to radically negate the world as it is so as to better provoke a revolutionary situation.
Duspensky the philosopher stresses the need to transgress all limits and achieve negation of negation. And Wassili de Gnedof, a poet, writes a poem in which, with nothing, the poet says all. Malevitch is going to try to express in his paintings this feeling of nothingness, this fascination with void. Where he's concern in what's called nature, there is neither question nor answer. He invents Suprematism, which embodies nothingness in answer to "everything" which has become a question. Malevitch, like Mondrian, tries to go beyond superficial appearances to seek out, if I may dare say so, the deeper appearance. And so Malevitch limits his vocabulary to scares, circles, triangles and crosses. His paintings are reduced to surfaces suspended in cosmic weightlessness with the canvas or paper seeming to have no end. Painting's supreme stage: the very goal of suprematism.
Through his passion for economy of means, Malevitch also arrives at the famous "White square on white," that is to say, painting which is almost invisible.
Malevitch announces: "I've penetrated into the color white. Come along with me, Comrades, and navigate in its endless space. You know, the word "abstraction" is a very bothersome word. Generally, when you speak of abstract painting, people believe it doesn't represent anything. It's not true. Painting always represents something but in a way different from the usual form of painting. It's a different type of activity. These painters suddenly became aware that they were reshaping life through their painting. Wasily Kandinsky, apostle of color and of the gesture from which it springs, a lover of color to the point that he considered it a living being with a soul, proposes to give painting a spiritual quality. He wants to be the equal of time and give painting the power of music. Piet Mondrian, a theosophist, transcribes in his art a hatred of nature and the flesh. He was seen once turning his back to a garden and sit down at a table to contemplate an artificial, painted rose. Mondrian believes in the power of the spirit and that only. Casimir Malevitch is a revolutionary. From a void taken to generate life, this poor man's son wants to create a better world through geometry. He prophetically announces the conquest of space. For all three, painting has a religious or para-religious character but it also has a mundane function. That's why the term "religious" has to be put in brackets. You could also say that is materialistic painting with extraordinary inner life. What's more there's a "daily life" side to this painting. Its research should also serve to change common objects and that's why Malevitch and his friends draw not only architectural projects but tea pots and furniture as well.
In revolutionary Russia of 1917, the role of art is put into question. Artists want to provide answers to the hopes of feverish crowds. Every painter sees himself as a citizen first. Where Malevitch and Kandinsky are concerned, art must first of all be spiritual, devoid of usefulness. For others, however, art must serve the revolution. That's what Alexander Rodchenko and Vladimir Tatlin claim through their typographical compositions, their photo montages and their sculptures. They decree that art must be taken off its pedestal and to communicate art's equivalence with reality, they initiate Constructivism.
Moholy-Nagy, a Hungarian, joins the Russian avant-garde with the architect painter Lissitsky. They want to become the promoters of these applied Arts, paradoxically derived from abstraction. All these men seem to seek a reality, which they had fled. They attempt a transposition of painting's fictional space into real space, naturally extending their research into architecture, Vladimir Tatlin achieved a synthesis. He proposes a monument to the glory of the Third international. Three off-axis spin pivoting with the earth's rotation. On top, a cube, a cone and a globe completing a rotation respectively once a day, once a month and once year. Time is thus added to space And. form. Constructivism affirms itself in the first manifesto published in 1920 by two brothers, Naum Gabo and Anton Pevsner. They write: "We stand against volume as an expression of space. Depth is the sole figuration of space. We respect physical mass as a component of plasticity. We announce the elements which made up art have their basis in a rhythmic dynamic. When in Russia art turns to productivity, Lissotsky exports his ideas to a new art and architecture school, the Bauhaus which architect Walter Gropius just founded at Weimar, in Germany. The new school's manifesto proclaims that all art-born crafts must satisfy ambitions of a world to come. A remarkable Impulse, which Madame Re-Soupault, who follows these concepts, still remembers: Well, in this manifesto, what you mainly found was hope. Gropius called upon younger men to throw all forms of conformism overboard. A deal had to be made between crafts and arts. The artist and artisan must never again be separated. All had to work together to create a new world, so to speak. The question was, were we going to build the future's cathedral together?
The Bauhaus was also a kind of monastery. Of a different, new type. A societal project. Bauhaus students practiced all the handicrafts so as to know materials and create new objects for daily use. Their professors were Schlemmer, Brauer, Mies Van der Rohe, Kandinsky, Moholy- Nagy, Feininge, Klee and Itten. At the start, it was mainly the latter.
He had a passion for children's paintings and taught nothing but creativity. His spiritual Influence is considerable. He also considerably encouraged Gropius to bring in Kandinsky when he had the chance; Kandinsky only taught what was relative to painting and pure art. Kandinsky wasn't an unknown to us. We knew his book, "The Spiritual in Art," which already said it all about the way he thought. Kandinsky in a "sign doctor," so to speak. He explains, analyzes and comments the genesis of forms. His students, facing a still life composed of various objects, must not only paint them but determine vertical and horizontal lines as well as angle and curve, contrast to excise the real structures from them. And then Kandinsky also has this pervasive compulsion of inner necessity, that man shouldn't lie to himself. A man must have the courage to know who he is, to know what he can do and what he cannot.
There was another professor at Bauhaus whose courses were revealing and revolutionary, Paul Klee! He ceaselessly brings the spirit to face forms' dynamics. Everything is food for his inspiration as a creator and teacher and even humor becomes a plastic value.
The Bauhaus Manifesto proclaimed: "Let's all together design and achieve the architecture of the future where painter, sculptor and architect will become one. At Bauhaus, every avant-garde movement in Europe exerted in turn its influence: from Russian Constructivism to the Dutch Stijl group action inspired by Mondrian. Mondrian Text: Form, natural color, natural rhythm, even natural relationships in most cases express the tragic. Things are in everything and showing them doesn't being as anything. The new plastic is the equivalent of nature. That's what Mondrain wrote. He was connected with a group we called "De Stijl." He stayed with them a few years because he was linked up with their ideas, but he was too much of an individualist to stay on with them.
Theo Van Doesburg heads the magazine published by De Stijl. Articles strive to express a now aesthetic consciousness which intends to make the public aware of pure art. Van Doesburg founds a small group, which with Mondrian, Vantengerloo and Van der Leek was to become the launch pad for neo-plasticism. Their emulation takes on the shape of form simplification which narrow all the down to statistics. De Stijl, all the while, undertakes a highly positive action meant to integrate all forms of art into life architecture, interior decoration, furniture, things which not only draw their inspiration from painting but develop its most extreme consequences and communicate the living proof of it. "We must replace a brown world with a white world," said Van Doesburg. And Mondrian himself accepts series reproduction of his paintings. He sees it as the triumph of the spirit. From furniture to architecture and even town planning, neo-plasticism is going to become one of the 20th century's major styles. Casimir Malevitch died in 1935 after taking care to design his own catafalque to which he gave Supremacist forms. In 1944, Wassily Kandinsky dies in Paris in the suburban Neuilly studio where he had been working since 1935. That same year, in 1944, Mondrian dies in New York before the skyscrapers, which proclaim so vividly the truth these three creators perceived. One man collected the legacy from the three giants: Paul Klee. Paul Klee is of course less abstract than the three major promoters of abstraction, which enabled him to serve as a link between all kinds of contemporary art regions as early as between the two World Wars.
Initiated to painting by his grandmother at the age of four, a passionate lover of music, a good violinist, full of humor, Paul Klee is accepted at the Munich Fine Arts School in 1900. One of his fellow-students is named Kandinsky. He discovers Raphael, Michelangelo and Byzantine mosaics during a trip to Italy. That's when he decides to turn his back on academic teachings and his first "inventions", as he calls them, are violently satirical. One of the turning points in his career occurs in 1914 during a trip to Tunisia, which led to a spiritual shock. He wrote in his diary then: "I'm possessed by color. I don't need to look for it to catch it. It possesses me for always. I know it." There were all sorts of things people didn't feel in Kandinsky and even less in Mondrian that they felt in Klee because in Klee there's not only his painting but its explanation as well. Klee explains how we should look at and how we should see his paintings. During the war, America inherits the abstract movements from Europe. Paradoxically, the country where realism and energy reign supreme is prepared to receive the plastic message. Why? The painter Alphonso Ossorio, friend and patron of American artists who grabbed the relay stick, outlines the reasons: In the United States there is a kind of prejudice against the eye. In the Protestant and Judaic religions there is a deep-felt form of iconoclasm, a fear of the image.
In this contradiction, a puritan fear of the image opposed to the objectivity indispensable to the birth of a nation, American creators are going to find the strength for the movement which is going to rise in the United States: lyric abstraction.
The yeast of art will henceforth switch over to the United States and creators will no longer look for references in the present's life force. Another adventure began, albeit in modern art's continuity.
What should be remembered is that Kandinsky's, Mondrian's and Malevitch's mystical drive did not get lost in the century. This here is the entrance and exit door. That's why it's called "In Exit." It's a slow train. And like all periods in time, it opens up and the future can be seen.
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