Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Two Odes to Kandinsky - Paint and Beads

When I learned about the Etsy Beadweavers Team's April 2014 Challenge, I just knew I had to participate!  Themed, "Inspired by Kandinsky," this challenge provided the opportunity to try to speak to the style and aesthetics of one of my favorite artists, the Russian painter, Wassily Kandinsky.  This is one of my favorite pieces, from 1913, titled Composition VII (image in public domain).

File:Kandinsky WWI.jpg

I have loved Kandinsky's work from this period, as well as some of his later pieces from his Bauhaus period, for a very long time.  However one of my art courses back in the late 1990s really helps cement my appreciation for his work.  Our assignment was to paint a still life in the style of one of the works at the Milwaukee Art Museum.  I of course selected their Kandinsky painting, Fragment I for Composition VII, from 1913, which was part of the preparation for the painting shown above.  

I selected a still life grouping of instruments for my reference because his work from this period is very musical, looking often like a symphony.  I could also see suggestions of shapes that looked like instruments, so I brought these elements out in my interpretation, including a violin, keyboard, horn, and drum - can you see them?

Trying to achieve a similar feel for my work proved to be extremely difficult.  If you compare mine to the original in the link, you can definitely see the differences.  I gained a new level of appreciation for Kandinsky's masterful use of color and ability to create unity and harmony out of such frenetic shape and movement.  There is great subtlety in his brushwork that only becomes apparent when viewed up close - subtle shading and layering of color that lend a great deal of depth and richness.

Fast-forward to 2014: If it was not difficult enough to achieve a similar result in paint, constructing a piece from beads that evoked his art was going to be an even bigger challenge!  This raised all sorts of construction problems: How do I achieve the bold shapes and subtle areas of shifting colors?  How can I create visual balance while incorporating the broad range of colors typical of his palates?  How can I make sure it is still wearable?

I decided that it was fitting to move forward about 15 years in Kandinsky's career, as I was doing so in my own artistic career, so I started by looking at a number of works from his Bauhaus period - click here for some examples.

I decided to figure out the construction of the piece as I went, and began with a sketch that captured some of the motifs common in his work from this period - geometric shapes, sharp lines and angles, layered elements. 

Then I began pulling out materials from my over-sized bead stash, paying careful attention to shapes.  Once I had some likely candidates, I began pulling together a color palate reminiscent of some of his color schemes from the 1920s, which often featured bright bold colors mixed with glowing pastels and jewel tones.  I strove to include enough color variation to be true to his aesthetic and still maintain enough visual focus to create an aesthetically pleasing piece.

I shifted over to construction, but left many questions still unanswered about how it would all hold together in the end.  I made a point of constructing individual elements with different stitches, including peyote shapes, bead embroidery bezels on cabochons, square stitch, and shaped herringbone.  Here is an example of how some of these elements came together:

For this piece, I used different bead sizes to create a herringbone circle, than whip stitched a bezeled cabochon into the hole in the center - I'm pleased to say it was a perfect fit!

As I worked, a made a point of switching frequently between elements, often laying partially completed elements on the sketch.  In this way, it felt a bit more like painting with beads, and also allowed me to try some different layouts along the way:

Brick stitch provided the perfect technique for making the squiggly line that meanders around the design, while other techniques solved different construction problems.  The two hair sticks I used for the bold linear elements so typical of Kandinsky's work from this period provided a particular challenge.  If I just wrapped beads around them, they would easily slide out, but I certainly did not want to just glue them on.  After days of puzzling over this issue, I came to a solution.  I added glue to the insides of a couple of large-holed turquoise beads, which gave me something to anchor beaded elements to.  At last, after many hours, it was time to try to put it all together:

This step was tricky because my thread was constantly tangling around the spiked elements of the piece, but with some perseverance it all came together.  It is actually surprisingly comfortable, as it lays nicely and doesn't flop around.  Here are a few shots of the finished product:

Have you ever tried to emulate a favorite artist with beadwork or a different artistic medium than the original?  Please share your experiences in the comments!

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