Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944), born in Moscow to a middle-class family, initially studied, practised and taught law and economics before enrolling in art school in Munich at the age of 30. He had been fascinated by colour since childhood, and his decision to study art was influenced by the work of Monet, but also by music and spirituality.
Kandinsky’s early paintings, executed mainly during the first decade of the twentieth century, were figurative, but expressive, brilliantly and experimentally colourful and stylistically avant-garde, showing post-impressionist and fauvist influences. Image 1 Kandinsky’s style continued to evolve quickly. From 1911 0nwards, though, he began to explore the potential of abstraction. His early abstract compositions, from ‘Der Blaue Reiter’ period, contain more or less organic forms which blur and blend into each other (see, for example, image 1, showing Improvisation 27, Garden of Love II, 1912). Der Blaue Reiter (the Blue Rider), active from 1911 to 1914. was an art movement founded in Munich by Kandinsky and other Russian and German artists, and was intrinsic to the development of expressionism.
Many of Kandinsky’s abstract works from the 1920s incorporate crosses (among other geometric shapes), or are cruciform compositions or have cruciform elements – see, for example, image 2 (White, 1923), image 3 (Composition VIII, 1923) and image 4 (Yellow-Red-Blue, 1925). During the period when these works were painted, Kandinsky was working at the Bauhaus, initially in Weimar and later in Dessau, where he remained until late 1933, when he moved to France. This last huge painting features a large vertical triangle in yellow, an oblique red cross and a blue circle as its main forms, and the focus in all these works on geometric form and primary colour reflects the influence of his period at the Bauhaus.
The work in image 5, Composition-X (1939), was painted in France. By this point, his work had become freer, and his use of colour more experimental , with surprising combinations applied thinly to create almost luminous effects. Also characteristic of Kandinsky’s work during this latter period of his life is the incorporation of ‘biomorphic’ shapes resembling cells, microbes and sea creatures, as shown in image 6 (Sky Blue, 1940).
The work of Wassily Kandinsky relates to Module 1 in his use of geometric forms and defined areas of colour in his compositions. Kandinsky used crosses both to structure his compositions and as elements within them. His analytical use of colour, especially during the Bauhaus period, appears to me to be underpinned by a particularly idiosyncratic development of the colour theory in Chapter 1 of this module. His views on shape and colour (for example, in relation to the attribution of shapes, temperature, musical pitch and other characteristics to specific colours) are characteristic of synaeasthesia. I feel Kandinsky’s approach throughout his very productive life is well suited to inform the design of stitched textiles, with his use of flat colour and well-defined geometric shapes particularly during the 1920s having special relevance to appliqué.
Düchting, H. (1991), Wassily Kandinsky 1866-1944: A Revolution in Painting, Benedikt Taschen, Köln.
Born in 1915, Herta Puls qualified as a radiographer in Germany before migrating to England in 1939. She studied embroidery and textile design part-time at the Newport College of Art and at the West of England College of Art in Bristol, then at the London College of Fashion.
Herta Puls combined her qualities as a textile artist with a parallel talent for ethnography in research for her thesis entitled Appliqué of the Kuna Islands of Panama. She visited the San Blas islands in 1975, and on several subsequent occasions over a number of years. Herta Puls was a member of the 62 Group of Textile Artists, the then Practical Study Group, and the Quilters Guild and Textile Society. As well as her work in documenting and teaching about the molas of the Kuna people, and investigating tribal textiles in other contexts, she was herself a prominent and inventive textile artist, and her work has been exhibited on a number of occasions.
The molas designed and stitched by Kuna women in the San Blas Islands in Panama are featured in two of Herta Puls’s publications (see reference list below). Molas form part of the traditional dress of Kuna women: two panels are stitched and incorporated as front and back panels of the blouse. The technique used combines appliqué and cutwork. The designs may have spiritual significance, and incorporate stylised representations of mythic characters and spiritual beings, ceremonies and events, birds and other animals, plants, huts, text and other symbols. The designs are reported by some commentators to originate in elaborate body painting, but Herta Puls cautions that this assumption may be unwarranted because no connection has been documented in a way that is historically definitive. She also notes that the common description of the technique of mola-making as ‘reverse appliqué’ is potentially misleading, since the layering, cutting and stitching is worked progressively from the bottom layer to the top layer of the design as layers are added to the stack of fabrics.
Images 7 to 9, from Herta Puls’s publications, show molas: the first is an abstract mola depicting devils; the second, a modern geometric design mola; and the third, a mola depicting a village meeting.
(Puls 1988: cover)
Herta Puls’s writing on cutwork and appliqué is at the heart of a lot of the techniques taught in Module 1, and her work documenting the construction of molas is directly relevant to the study of traditional appliqué in Chapter 9: I read her minutely detailed, superbly illustrated instructions for working molas as well as the Chapter 9 study notes before tackling my traditional appliqué sample. Herta Puls’s work is inspiring for me in the context of this module not only because of her meticulous work in documenting the traditional techniques of Kuna stitchery but also because of the way she extends the insights from her study into her own contemporary practice, as documented in The Art of Cutwork and Appliqué (images 10 and 11, a drawing and subsequent embroidery based on a study of a shrivelled pear, with technical aspects influenced by the mola technique):
(Puls 1978: 208)
Herta Puls’s own work is a wonderful exemplar of what can be achieved through diligent and creative study of traditional techniques in combination with openness to the potential of design sources in nature, incorporation of analytical studies to explore form, a rigorous and imaginative process of design development, and technical prowess in making. These are important lessons for me at the end of my first module.
Puls, H. (1978), The Art of Cutwork and Appliqué: Historic, Modern and Kuna Indian, Batsford, London.
Puls, H. (1988), Textiles of the Kuna Indians of Panama, Shire Ethnography, Princes Risborough.
Gaudí is best known as an architect, but one of the defining characteristics of his architecture is his incorporation of fantastic ornamentation, including exuberant mosaics. Several of Gaudi’s mosaics take the overall form of stars, and some also incorporate sections of tiles with Islamic star patterns resembling those of the Alhambra.
Antoni Gaudí i Cornetwas born in 1852 at Reus, in Catalonia, and died in 1926. His studies in architecture, undertaken at the Llotja School and the Barcelona Higher School of Architecture, followed a varied youth during which Gaudí worked as an apprentice in a textile mill, studied teaching, and undertook military service. His first architectural projects were lampposts designed for the Plaça Reial in Barcelona.
Gaudi was a leading proponent of Modernisme (a Catalan movement in art and literature, not to be confused with international Modernism movement). The main concepts of the Modernista aesthetic are founded in the search for an authentic Catalan style, drawing upon mediaeval and Arabic sources. The rise of Modernisme was roughly contemporaneous with Art Nouveau, Jugendstil, the Viennese Secession, and the Arts and Crafts movement in Britain. Characteristic elements are historically derived, include prolific ornamentation and a preference for curves over rectilinear geometry, and tend to be influenced by natural forms. As with proponents of parallel design movements in other cultures (William Morris and his colleagues in the Arts and Crafts movement, for example), Modernista designers tended to oppose bourgeois values, and set out to use their art to change society. As well, Gaudí’s work was strongly influenced by his devout Roman Catholic faith.
Seven of Gaudí’s buildings and landscapes in Barcelona have been granted World Heritage status by UNESCO. The Sagrada Família basilica is Antoni Gaudí’s best-known work. Commenced in 1882, this work is still being completed. Images 12 to 14, below, show mosaics from the Parc Güell. Images 15 and 16 show, respectively, design elements (chimneys) on the roof of Casa Batlló and a seat at Bellesguard. I am particularly intrigued by the mosaic in image 14, which incorporates fragments of some of the Islamic strap designs I included among my collection of inspirational images in Chapter 1.
I feel Gaudí’s work relates to this module in two ways: first, simply in that he featured stars and crosses in the decorative aspects of his designs; and second, because I feel that mosaic, as an architectural or decorative technique, actually bears a close relationship to the appliqué methods I have learned in the module. Both mosaic and appliqué are about applying carefully selected materials to a substrate in a manner guided by rigorous design thinking around shape, colour and scale, to achieve a specific artistic object. As well, though, I am drawn by Gaudí’s exuberant use of riotous ornamentation which, though diverse in colour and form, always seems just right in the overall context of the building or landscape.
Wikipedia sites on Gaudí himself, at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antoni_Gaud%C3%AD
and on Modernisme, at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Modernisme
UNESCO World Heritage pages: http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/320/