What makes the invention of abstraction in art such a revolutionary advance is the fact that it put into question the final objective of art in general. The image, which represented whatever reality until then, became a means to express internal thoughts, invisible realities. Before this major art movement was born, some artists were already trying to create abstract representations of reality, the Cubists for instance. However, it was not until the beginning of the 20th century with all its cultural and scientific revolutions – it’s at this time that the theory of relativity saw the light of day – that pure abstraction in art was a fact. Is it possible to credit just one artist for the birth of this totally ? It is often said that we have Vassily Kandinsky to thank for abstract art. But there were other artists who were simultaneously entering the unknown grounds of abstraction as well… Who are they ?
Head of the Russian avant-garde, Malevich invented Suprematism. This movement is based on the idea that art must transcend matter and thus that the truth of forms and colors is supreme in relation to the topic of the work. At first influenced by Cubists, Malevich’s firm belief that they had not gone far enough in their abstraction process resulted in now iconic paintings like Black square (1913). At first sight, this black square does not look like anything else but just that. At closer inspection, there are fine subtleties and this square almost has an emotional weight on its white backdrop…
“When conscience will have lost the habit of seeing in a painting the representation of nature’s nooks, madonnas and impudent venuses, we will see the artwork as purely pictural.
I have metamorphosed in zero of the forms and have found myself again in the whirlwind of the trash of academic arts.”
Extract from On cubism and from futurism to suprematism. The new pictural realism, 1915
Who cannot picture the iconic geometrical painting of the painter Mondrian ? According to him, the essence of the universe is its geometrical structure. He inspired himself from jazz and boogie to put into place, starting in 1914, a radical abstraction where vertical and horizontal lines rule the space. In opposing the uniformity of the colored parts to the size variations of the lines, he created movement in his pieces which transpired the rhythm of his favorite music despite compositions that nonetheless recalled stability.
Feel the Mondrian spirit with this selection of tunes from the artist’s record collection here.
The supposed author of the first work of abstract art in history, a watercolour dating from 1910 on the back of which is written “abstract” watercolour, Kandinsky played a very important role in the appearance of abstraction in art. It is after many long years of reflection during which he tried his hand at multiple art movements that the Russian painter built his distinguishable abstract style. Prone to synesthesia, Kandinsky was capable of “seeing” the melodies he heard, in a way he conceived painting like music, that is as a means to represent spirituality and an inner mystique.
TO CONCLUDE ?
Whereas Kandinsky blamed Mondrian and constructivists for the far too mechanical aspect of their work, the latter found that Kandinsky still turned to his personal intuition too much. Malevich thought that Kandinsky’s painting were still too reminiscent of life and thus of reality. In any case, these major artists left behind them two schools of abstract art : geometry and lyricism… with paternity tests probably far less uncertain than those of abstract art !