November 3, 2017

Lyrical Kandinsky

        Wassily (or Vasily) Kandinsky (Russia/France, 1866-1944) is generally considered the creator of the first purely abstract work in modern art.  Most famous for colorful paintings, Kandinsky also worked a fair bit with wood block prints, in which he explored many of the themes that so interested him, including music, spirituality, and the move to abstraction.  In 1913 he published a book of prose poems and 56 woodcuts he’d been working on for several years.  It was entitled Sounds and he called it a “musical album,” although most of it wasn’t explicitly about sounds or music - at least as far as I can tell; the poems are pretty abstract, too.  It’s sort of funny that Kandinsky and I share so many similar interests - music, poetry, block printing, spirituality - and yet come to such completely different places.
        The piece entitled “Lyrical” uses four blocks for four colors, plus two more shades where the colored blocks overlap.  In it I see a flying horse with red wings, which seems quite lyrical swooping through the air.  Unfortunately I’m wrong, and it actually represents a horse and rider, which was a motif Kandinsky used to symbolize overcoming representation.  (Isn’t that
an irony, to use a representational image to symbolize abstraction?)  It also seems to me less lyrical and more of a headlong gallop when I look at it as a horse and rider.  In any case, it’s interesting to see how this particular piece reproduces a painting from 1911.  Or perhaps the painting reproduces the wood block print.  Given that the wood block prints for the book were made over a period beginning in 1907, I can’t say whether the painting or the woodcut came first.
        And I’ve included a couple of other pieces from the book.  If I try to find images in the abstract piece above, I can imagine a woman in the lower right, and perhaps more horses along the bottom center and left.  But who knows?  If Kandinsky’s thought process for this piece was recorded anywhere, I haven’t seen it.  The last piece here is quite representational, showing Kandinsky’s interest in Russian folk motifs.  I like the pattern on the woman’s dress, and the fairy tale quality of the trees and clouded mountain, and blowing veil.

[Pictures: Vignette next to “Offen (Open)” color woodcut from Klänge (Sounds) by Vasily Kandinsky, 1913;
Lyrisches (Lyrical) woodcut from Klänge by Kandinsky, 1913;
Der Reiter (Lyrisches), oil on canvas by Kandinsky, 1911 (Image from Wikimedia Commons);
Der Schleier (The Veil) woodcut from Klänge by Kandinsky, 1913 (Images from MoMA).]

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