Wassily Kandinsky 1866 – 1944
The last time I met Kandinsky’s paintings was three years ago in Berlin at a fascinating multimodal exhibition.
In my head, there is still an echo of his eye-catching incomprehensibility and impenetrability
It was rummaging, trembling, swinging, shaking, and twisting. It was a rush of red, a rush of blue, an attack of yellow. Intense green crescendo and light green piano, (s)now white allegro, then discreet purple presto and colorless allegrissimo, brown forte, and black fortissimo. Apocalyptic visions and terrifying floods, canyons and towers, angles and horizons, cones and trapezoids, calligraphic lines and curves, darknesses and lights, rains and rainbows, saints and demons, Lenin and Hitler.
First, there is a grid of coordinates, then a spiky piece, and then something foggy and fuzzy, and it ends with some concentric, colored circles. In Kandinsky’s paintings all of this happens connected and suddenly; too many secrets, too many oscillations, too many notes, too many forms, too many activities, too many emotions that overflow, melt and overflow into each other in the space already filled enough with auras, clouds of ethereal substances, theosophical occultism and sound matter.
In this aesthetic turmoil, do not even try to search for any logic, nor to look for the subject, because for the author himself it is already difficult enough and irrelevant. What is valued here are the spiritual vibrations, the inner sounds, and the intimate feelings of the painter and, consequently, of the observer. And these are just a few of the “phenomena” that enchanted the young artist from Moscow and turned him into one of the greatest abstractionists of all time.
Wassily Kandinsky – the example of association as the founder of abstract painting, initially studied law (and while researching the peasant and ethnographic law of the pagan tribes in Siberia, he discovered the picturesque, Russian folk art). After earning his doctorate and rejecting the position as a university lecturer, he devoted himself entirely to art, moved to Munich, and became a member of the Bauhaus movement and the Der Blaue Reiter group.
Soon, influenced by a Monet exhibition, a Wagner opera, and a conversation with a German psychiatrist, he will become completely obsessed with synaesthesia (Greek: syn – together, aesthesia – sensation) – a scientific name for a harmless, hypersensitive condition that allows the senses to mix with each other at the same time, a phenomenon of experiencing music as colors, shapes, and lines, which were drawn in front of him with incredible speed. The music and the idea of music strongly permeate Kandinsky’s entire painting opus. He deeply believed that the nuances are in mutual resonance, which produces visual chords that strongly affect the soul. Maybe that’s why Kandinsky’s canvas concerts are as difficult to read for the eyes same as the notes that echoed in his ears while he was creating. Probably that is why they are named by the painter with typical musical terminology and metaphors: Compositions, Improvisations, and Impressions.
Flirting with the boundaries between sound and visual is an old and proven game. The Pythagoreans themselves stated very precisely that “the eyes were created for astronomy, the ears for harmony, and these two sciences are twin sisters.” This relatively simple sentence has evolved over the centuries into a myriad of intellectual and spiral theories with a single statement and point: the music and mathematical creative propositions are the same things. The tendency (in the late 19th and early 20th centuries) to blur the edges of music and other arts, and the whole new synthetic experience where material distinctions between the word, image, and tone merge into perfect ecstatic harmony which becomes an obsession in the then elite artistic circles.
It seems that for Kandinsky these things were much more than a momentary connection, de facto, they were in an essential relation: “Colors are keyboards, eyes are harmonies, the soul is the piano with many strings. The artist is the hand that plays, which by touching the keys causes vibrations in the soul.” His ambition went so far as to evoke sound through the vision and to create the pictorial equivalent of a symphony, which will stimulate both the audio and the visual senses. Despite the lack of medical evidence for its correlation between color and sound, it became a lifelong preoccupation of the painter, who claimed that as a child he heard a strange rumble as he mixed colors on his palette, and similar chaotic noise, but this time of colors, also happened to him while he was playing the cello (Yes, Kandinsky also was a great and passionate cellist!).
Kandinsky’s synesthesia (real or fictitious) instead of simplifying things in reading his works seems to further complicate the approach to their inaccessibility and innumerability. And not only for hypnotized amateurs (like you and me, for example) but also for specialists and theorists who have been analyzing Kandinsky’s abstractionism for decades. They say that even 70 years after his death, he remains impenetrable: “Looking at Kandinsky’s paintings, we simultaneously look at what is hidden.”
If so, if his art hides something, then it must surely contain a secret, which is worth keeping undiscovered and which invokes wild assumptions and (or) alarming projections. To some, this may seem ghostly, to others – ridiculous, but with that, we enter into the endless territory of subjective experience. And there, in the personal experience, the hidden meaning of the symbols, the unbalanced chromatic pieces, the sonic discrepancies, the emancipated dissonance, the disharmonious tonalities, and the optical condensation of Kandinsky should probably be found.
Today, thanks to his extreme ambiguity and the radical vocabulary he has invented and developed, our perception is so accustomed to abstraction that we do not wonder at all what the form we see represents and what this or that collision of colors means.
translated by Aneta Paunovska