Wassily Kandinsky: 1866-1944

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Born on December 16, 1866 in Moscow Russia, Wassily Kandinsky was a painter, printmaker, stage designer, art theorist, and a central artist in the development of 20th century abstract art.

Kandinsky studied economics, ethnography and law in Moscow from 1886 – 1893 and wrote a dissertation on the legality of labourer’s wages. In 1896, Kandinsky decided to become an artist and traveled to Munich, Germany  where he studied at the art school of Anton Ažbe. In 1900 he studied at the Academy of Fine Arts Munich under Franz von Stuck.

In Munich, the early 1900’s was a centre for Jugendstil (Art Nouveau), and Kandinsky’s art grew out of this movement as well as Russian art. His early works included figure studies, scenes with knights and riders, romantic fairytale subjects and other  Russian scenes. He worked with tempera and gouache on black backgrounds and later used printmaking techniques including etching and drypoint. Also at this time, Kandinsky began creating small oil sketches using a palette knife on canvas board.

Between 1903 and 1909 he and his companion Gabriele Münter traveled to the Netherlands, Tunisia, Italy, France and throughout Germany.  While in France, Kandinsky stayed in Sèvres, outside Paris, where paintings by Gauguin, les Nabis, Matisse and other Fauvists were exhibiting. He was influenced by these artists and his colours became more vibrant.

Between 1904 and 1908 Kandinsky participated in art exhibitions in Moscow and St Petersburg, the Berlin Secession, and the Salon d’Automne in Paris. He was a co-founder of the Neue künstlervereinigung münchen (Munich New Artist’s Association) in 1909, and exhibited with them at the Moderne Galerie Thannhauser in Munich. Kandinsky had developed a distinctive style of painting and his shift from representational painting towards abstraction, focusing on the synthesis of colour line and form began.

Kandinsky was forced to leave Munich after the outbreak of World War I in 1914 and he and Münter stayed for several months in Switzerland. At the end of 1914 he went back to Russia and in December 1915 he traveled to Stockholm, to meet Münter.  He returned to Russia in 1916 where he met Nina von Andreyevskaya, whom he married in February 1917.

Between 1915 and 1919, Kandinsky produced numerous drawings and watercolours, as well as prints and paintings on glass. At times he returned to a more representational style painting realistic landscapes, views of Moscow, figure paintings, and fairytale scenes. However, his work also included completely abstract ink drawings, and geometric shapes became more prevalent.

Between 1918 and 1921, Kandinsky’s activities as a teacher, writer, administrator and organizer occupied much of his time. He played an active role in Narkompros, where he was director of the theatre and film sections and was an editor of a journal for the publication “IZO”.  He was also head of a studio at Moscow Svomas art school. Kandinsky still found time to produce large, canvases and many watercolours and drawings.

Kandinsky returned to Germany in 1921 and accepted an offer of professorship at the Bauhaus in Weimar. He became master of the wall painting workshop and taught a course on the theory of form. The faculty, which included Lyonel Feininger, Johannes Itten, Paul Klee and Oskar Schlemmer, developed theoretical courses, led workshops and instruction in crafts and sought to reunite all artistic disciplines.

At the Bauhaus, Kandinsky created about three hundred oils and several hundred watercolours. From the beginning, he had systematically recorded his paintings and, after 1922, he catalogued the watercolours as well. He also produced many drawings which often related to his teaching theories.

During the Bauhaus period, Kandinsky used circles, squares, triangles, zigzags, checker-boards and arrows as components of his abstract works. The shapes became just as meaningful as the abstract images of towers, horses, boats and rowers had been in his art in earlier years.

In 1933, the Kandinsky and his wife moved to Paris after the Nazis closed the Bauhaus school.  During this time,  his art included biomorphic forms, the incorporation of sand with pigment, and a new delicacy and brightness in his colour harmonies. He preferred pastels to the primary colours he had used in the 1920s, and he favoured images derived from biology, zoology and embryology.

Between 1934 and 1944 Kandinsky created 144 oil paintings, about 250 watercolours, and several hundred drawings. His work during this time revealed his personal response to prevailing artistic fashions – the free, organic shapes of Surrealism and the geometric abstraction of Art concret and Abstraction–Création on the other.

Kandinsky became a French citizen shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War. He continued working during the period of German occupation and died on December 13, 1944 at Neuilly-sur-Seine.

For a more in-depth biography, visit the source links below. The  MoMA site has an extensive biography including information about his writings.

Sources: Pintura (images), MoMA, Wikipedia,

Related books from Amazon: Wassily Kandinsky

Pablo Picasso: 1881-1973

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Born on October 25, 1881, in Málaga, Spain, Pablo Picasso (Pablo Diego José Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno María de los Remedios Cipriano de la Santísima Trinidad Ruiz y Picasso) was a painter, sculptor, draughtsman, printmaker, decorative artist, and writer.  “His revolutionary artistic accomplishments, including the co-founding of Cubism, brought him universal renown making him one of the best-known figures in 20th century art.”

The son of an academic painter, José Ruiz Blasco, Picasso began to draw at an early age. In 1895 the family moved to Barcelona where Picasso studied La Lonja Academy of Fine Arts. Picasso’s first exhibition took place in Barcelona in 1900, and that fall he traveled to Paris for the first of several stays during the early years of the century. Picasso settled in Paris in April 1904, and his circle of friends included Guillaume Apollinaire, Max Jacob, Gertrude and Leo Stein, as well as two dealers, Ambroise Vollard and Berthe Weill.

Picasso’s work is generally categorized into commonly accepted periods:

Blue Period (1901-1904) – Picasso worked in a predominantly blue palette and his imagery focused on outcasts, beggars and invalided prostitutes. He produced his first sculptures: a modeled figure, Seated Woman, and two bronze facial masks

Rose Period (1905-1907) – Picasso’s work was dominated by pink and flesh tints and by delicate drawing.  These works were less monochromatic than the Blue Period. Harlequins, circus performers and clowns appear frequently in this period.

Primitivism (1906-1908) – Picasso’s works made reference to forms of archaic art and made expressive use of distortion with subdued greys and earth colours and rhythmical repetitions and contrasts. Picasso made his first carved sculptures. The resistance of wood produced simplified forms similar to his paintings.

Analytic Cubism (1909-1912) – Picasso produced works where objects were deconstructed into their components. His images were increasingly transparent and difficult to interpret and characterized by a growing discontinuity of figurative fragments. From 1909, Georges Braque and Picasso worked closely together to develop Cubism. By 1911 their styles were extremely similar and during this time, it was virtually  impossible to distinguish one from the other.

Synthetic Cubism (1912–1919) – In 1912, Picasso and Braque began to incorporate elements of collage into their paintings and to experiment with the papier collé (pasted paper) technique. “Both collage and papier collé offered a new method not only of suggesting space but also of replacing conventional forms of representation with fragments of images that function as signs. During two further phases of his development of papier collé in 1913, Picasso discovered that shapes could acquire other meanings or identities simply by their arrangement, without requiring a resemblance to naturalistic appearances. A single shape might wittily and equally convincingly stand for the side of a guitar or a human head.”

Classicism and Surrealism - From 1916-1922, Picasso collaborated on ballet and theatrical productions. He designed five complete ballet productions while still maintaining his career as a painter. During the 1920s, along with the continuing influence of Cubism, Picasso created a personal form of neo-classicism where his work showed a renewed interest in drawing and figural representation. From 1925 to the 1930s Picasso was involved to a certain degree with the Surrealists, and from the fall of 1931 he was especially interested in making sculpture. In 1932, with large exhibitions at the Galeries Georges Petit, Paris, and the Kunsthaus Zürich, and the publication of the first volume of Christian Zervos’s catalogue raisonné, Picasso’s fame increased greatly.

“By 1936 the Spanish Civil War had profoundly affected Picasso, the expression of which culminated in his 1937 painting Guernica. After the invasion of France by the Germans in 1940, Picasso continued to  live in his Paris studio. Although monitored by the German authorities, he was still able to work and even to cast some sculpture in bronze.”

In 1944, Picasso became associated with the Communist Party.  From August 1947 he made ceramics at the Madoura potteries in Vallauris, partly motivated by political concerns. He also produced a considerable number of bronze sculptures in the early 1950s, including some of his best-known works in the medium.

“Picasso’s final works were a mixture of styles, his means of expression in constant flux until the end of his life. Devoting his full energies to his work, Picasso became more daring, his works more colorful and expressive, and from 1968 through 1971 he produced a torrent of paintings and hundreds of copperplate etchings. At the time these works were dismissed by most as pornographic fantasies of an impotent old man or the slapdash works of an artist who was past his prime. Only later, after Picasso’s death, when the rest of the art world had moved on from abstract expressionism, did the critical community come to see that Picasso had already discovered neo-expressionism and was, as so often before, ahead of his time.”

Pablo Picasso died on April 8, 1973 at the age of 91. He was extremely prolific throughout his career. He produced approximately 50,000 artworks including  1,885 paintings; 1,228 sculptures; 2,880 ceramics, 12,000 drawings, thousands of prints, and numerous tapestries and rugs.

For a more in-depth biography of Picasso, see the source links below and be sure to visit the On-line Picasso Project – a non-profit project that catalogues an amazingly large number of Picasso’s works and a timeline of the artist’s life. The website contains over 16,000 catalogued artworks, over 6,000 notes, and thousands of commentaries, biographical entries, and archived news articles.

Sources: Guggenheim, MoMA, Wikipedia, Ciudad de la Pintura (images)

Related Books:
Picasso: Painting Against Time

Picasso (Getting to Know the World’s Greatest Artists)
A Life of Picasso: The Prodigy, 1881-1906

Romare Bearden: 1911 – 1988

Romare Bearden Empress of the BluesBorn on September 2, 1911 in Charlotte, North Carolina, Romare Bearden was a multi-talented artist and one of America’s foremost collagists.  Bearden’s family moved to New York City in 1914 in an attempt to distance themselves from Jim Crow’s “separate but equal” laws.

Bearden initially studied at Lincoln University but transferred to Boston University where he was the art director of Beanpot, a student humour magazine. He then completed his degree in education at New York University.  At NYU, Bearden was enrolled in art classes and was a lead cartoonist and art editor for the monthly journal “The Medley”.  During his University years, he published numerous journal covers and wrote many texts on social and artistic issues.  Bearden also attended New York’s Art Students League, studying under German artist George Grosz. Bearden served in the US Army between 1942 and 1945 and returned to Europe in 1950 to study art and philosophy at the Sorbonne with the support of the GI Bill.

From the 1930’s to the 1960’s Bearden was a social worker with the New York City Department of Social Services and worked on his art in his free time.  He had his first successful solo exhibitions in Harlem in 1940 and in Washington DC in 1944. In 1954, he married dancer and choreographer Nanette Rohan, with whom he shared the rest of his life. During this time, Bearden was active in Harlem’s art scene and was a member of the Harlem Artists Guild.

Bearden was a prolific artist who experimented with numerous mediums including watercolours, oils, collage, photo montage, prints, and costume and set design. His inspiration was gathered from his lifelong study of art from the Western masters, African art, Byzantine mosaics, Japanese prints, and Chinese landscape paintings. Bearden is best known for his collages which were featured on the covers of Time and Fortune magazines in 1968.

Bearden was active in numerous arts organizations and was a respected writer and spokesperson for the arts and for social causes. In 1964, he was appointed as art director of the African-American advocacy group, the Harlem Cultural Council.  He was also involved in the establishment of art venues such as The Studio Museum and the Cinque Gallery that supported young minority artists. Bearden was also a founding member of the Black Academy of Arts and Letters and was elected to the National Institute of Arts and Letters in 1972.

Bearden’s work is on display in major museums and galleries in the United States including New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and the Studio Museum in Harlem. Bearden received numerous honorary degrees including doctorates from the Pratt Institute, Carnegie Mellon University, Davidson College, Atlanta University, and others.  He received the 1984 Mayor’s Award of Honour for Art and Culture in New York City, and the National Medal of Arts, presented by President Ronald Regan in 1987.

Romare Bearden died in New York on March 12, 1988 from complications due to bone cancer.  His estate provided for the Romare Bearden Foundation which was established  in 1990 and whose purpose is “to preserve and perpetuate” his legacy.  The foundation also supports the “creative and educational development of young people and of talented and aspiring artists and scholars”.

Related Books:
Romare Bearden

The Art of Romare Bearden

Conjuring Bearden

Sources: Romare Bearden Foundation, National Gallery of Art, Artcyclopedia, New York Times, Wikipedia

ART-O-MAT: Pocket Art

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Many art lovers simply don’t have the budget to purchase original works of art.  Enter the Art-O-Mat – re-purposed cigarette vending machines that have been converted to sell pocket size original works of art.

North Carolina artist Clark Whittington created the first Art-O-Mat in 1997 which he showed along side his paintings at a solo show at a local cafe. The machine sold his black & white photographs for $1.00 each. The art show was scheduled to close, however, the owner of the Penny Universitie Gallery, Cynthia Giles, loved the Art-O-Mat and asked that it stay.  It remains in its original location to this day. Following the show, the involvement of other artists was necessary for the project to continue. Giles introduced Whittington to other local artists and the group “Artists in Cellophane” was formed.

“Artists in Cellophane (A.I.C.), the sponsoring organization of Art-O-Mat is based on the concept of taking art and “repackaging” it to make it part of our daily lives. The mission of A.I.C. is to encourage art consumption by combining the worlds of art and commerce in an innovative form. A.I.C believes that art should be progressive, yet personal and approachable.”

The Art-O-Mat dispenses original art-works and may include paintings, photographs, sculpture, collage, illustration, handmade jewellery, textile arts, and more. There are 82 machines in at least 28 American States, one in Quebec, Canada, and one in Vienna, Austria. There are around 400 contributing artists from 10 different countries currently involved in the Art-o-mat project.

For more information, to get involved, or to find an Art-O-Mat near you, visit Art-O-Mat.org.

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Andy Warhol: 1928 – 1987

Born Andrew Warhola on August 6, 1928 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Andy Warhol was a painter, printmaker, and filmmaker and a  pivotal figure in the formation of the  Pop Art movement.

Warhol was the son of working-class Slovakian immigrants. His frequent illnesses in childhood often kept him bedridden and at home. During this time, he formed a strong bond with his mother.  It was what he describes an important period in the formation of his personality and skill set.

Warhol studied at the School of Fine Arts at Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburgh (now Carnegie Mellon University), majoring in pictorial design. In 1949, he moved to New York City where he quickly became successful in magazine illustration and advertising, producing work for publications such as Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, and the The New Yorker.

Much of Warhol’s work the 1950’s was commissioned by fashion houses and he became known for his whimsical ink drawings of I. Miller shoes. In 1952, Warhol’s illustrations for Truman Capote’s writings were exhibited by the Hugo Gallery in New York and he exhibited at several other venues in the 1950′s including a 1956 group show at the Museum of Modern Art. Warhol received several awards during this decade from the Art Director’s Club and the American Institute of Graphic Arts.

Warhol was enthralled with Hollywood celebrities, fashion, and style and by the early 1960’s these interests were reflected in his artwork. Borrowing images from popular culture, Warhol’s “Pop Art” paintings were characterized by repetition of everyday objects such as soup cans, Coca Cola bottles, and 100 dollar bills.  He also began painting celebrities such as Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley, and Elizabeth Taylor.

Most of Warhol’s paintings were produced in his studio that he called “The Factory” with the help of assistants. Photographic images were screen-printed on to painted backgrounds and mechanically repeated – a process that mimicked the manufacturing industry and parodied mass consumption. During the Factory years, Warhol associated with and “groomed” a variety of artists, writers, musicians, and underground celebrities including Edie Sedgwick, Viva, writer John Giorno, and film-maker Jack Smith.

Warhol worked prolifically in a range of media including painting, photography, drawing, sculpture, and film. Between 1963 and 1968 he produced more than 60 films and about 500 short “screen test” portraits of his studio visitors. His most popular and successful film was Chelsea Girls, made in 1966.

On June 3, 1968, Warhol and art critic/curator Mario Amaya, were shot by Valerie Solanas after she was turned away from the Factory studio. Warhol’s wound was almost fatal and would affect him physically and mentally for the rest of his life.

The 1970’s was a quieter decade for Warhol who concentrated more on portrait commissions for celebrities such as Mick Jagger, John Lennon, Michael Jackson, and others.  He founded Interview Magazine and in 1975 published “The Philosophy of Andy Warhol” which expressed the idea that “Making money is art, and working is art and good business is the best art.” During the 1970’s Warhol was also involved in a number collaborations with young artists such as Jean-Michel Basquiat, Francesco Clemente and Keith Haring.

In general, Andy Warhol was consistently ambiguous on the meaning of his work and appeared indifferent and ambivalent. He denied that his artwork carried any social or political commentary.

Warhol died in New York City on February 22, 1987 of a cardiac arrhythmia while recovering from routine gallbladder surgery. In his will, almost his entire estate was dedicated to the “advancement of the visual arts”. The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts was founded in that same year and it remains one of the largest grant-giving organizations for the visual arts in the United States today.

Sources: MOMA, Guggenheim, National Gallery of Canada, Andy Warhol Foundation, Wikipedia