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Posts Tagged ‘Piet Mondrian’


In ESSAYS on October 6, 2015 at 3:27 pm

In chemistry, elements are called simple substances of which mixed substances consist. The term chemical element should help to explain the wide range of properties and reactions of substances scientifically. Chemical elements refer to primary substances that are neither composed from other substances nor resulted from these, but constitute the components that make up mixed substances.

The term chemical element led me to question whether there could be such a thing as a painter-ly element (or basic element) in painting?

If you look at a painting as a composition of mixed substances and their reactions to each other, then the question arises as to what the basic components of painting might be. I distinguish eight elements of painting: color, surface, movement, time, space, light, matter and finally the painter (cause, medium, subject). Here, space and light are elements of the environment in which a painting is created; color, surface, motion, time, matter and the painter are both elements of an environment, as well as a painting. This creates two categories into which the eight elements of the painting can be subdivided:

1. Elements of the environment: light and space
2. Elements of a painting and the environment: color, surface, movement, time, matter and painter

Light and the space

Light is the visible part of the electromagnetic radiation. As an element of the environment, the light directly affects both the surface and the dye. The color impression of light emanating from a self-luminous light source is its color. If color of light hits the surface of the painting support or the dye, there will be an additive mixing of colors in the eye and brain of the observer. If the color impressions of light are added to maximum brightness, it creates the sensation of white color, and if the brightness is reduced to zero, the resulting color sensation is black. For without light, there would be no painting. If necessary, you can turn off the light, as for example Cy Twombly occasionally did while painting. Contrary to light the situation with the space is not as simple. (It is possible to control light. It can be turned on and off, however I can not turn off the space. The space always exists.) For painting space is only relevant insofar as it acts as an element of the environment, or as a container for the painting. Space influences the size of the painting medium and determines the distance between the painter and the painting.

Paul Cézanne, Les joueurs de cartes (The Card Players), 1892-95, oil on canvas, 60 x 73 cm, Courtauld Institute of Art, London

(img. 1) Paul Cézanne, Les joueurs de cartes (The Card Players), 1892-95, oil on canvas, 60 x 73 cm, Courtauld Institute of Art, London


The use of color in painting has two origins: color space and colorant.
Color space is defined as the application of a color model: it can be realized by a coloring method. Normally such a color space model consists of three or more primary or basic colors, whose mixtures create different shades of color within this color space. Such color spaces provide a clear handling of the shades or tones, in which a color system takes control of the variety of the spectrum. However, the color systems only describe the theoretical principles of color mixing and never the technical implementation of the colored base material. If a painter uses a color system that is based on the mixing of primary colors, the matter of the color is produced by the method, which is determined only by the painter’s choice. In this case, the appearance of a color on the surface is independent of its base fabric, (img. 1).
Colorant or dye means a material which has the properties to tint other materials. The qualities of colorants are dependent on the binding with respect to the respective medium. The ways of binding the colorant are co-determined by the materials. In contrast to color space the dye or colorant maintains the basic material on the painted surface independently from its appearance. The properties of a colorant determine its hue. In this procedure, the matter and material determine the character of the hue. Both the properties of hue, as saturation and brightness, are limited in their development which also applies to the shade itself, (img. 2).

The Snail 1953 Henri Matisse 1869-1954 Purchased with assistance from the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1962 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/T00540

(img. 2) The Snail 1953 Henri Matisse 1869-1954 Purchased with assistance from the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1962 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/T00540


Surface in painting is defined as a painting support. Two main properties of the surface are significant for the attachment of colors: the size and shape of the surface and the quality of the surface.
The measure of the size and shape is the format of a surface. The area of a surface is determined by one or more edges. If the area comprises of more than one edge, it follows that the area has one or more corners. The measurement of a surface, its edges and its corners are the original constants of painting. The regularity of these constants influences the size and shape of the tool used for applying paint as well as the speed with which the paint is applied.
In contrast, the characteristics of the tool and the color through matter are informed and shaped by the quality of the surface. The materiality of the surface shows itself either in its original qualities or in a coating which has its own qualities and transforms the initial element of the surface.

Foto: Veronika Wenger

(img. 3) Photo: Veronika Wenger

Movement and time

To apply the color on the surface, the painter changes his position in time. The result is movement. While painting, two different movements can be distinguished: the movement of the the painter in space and the movement on the surface. An example of a painting of two movements would be the surface of a puddle in spring with pollen fallen on it: the pollen moves on the water surface (img. 3).

Caspar David Friedrich: Winterlandschaft mit Kirche, 1811

(img. 4) Caspar David Friedrich: Winterlandschaft mit Kirche, 1811

It is not possible to exclude one of the two types of movement while painting, but one can focus on one of the them. While Caspar David Friedrich emphasizes the movement on the surface in his works (img. 4), Jackson Pollock preferred in his drip paintings the movement in space (img. 5).

Jackson Pollock, One: Number 31, 1950

(img. 5) Jackson Pollock, One: Number 31, 1950

Through movement in the act of painting, time is set. It is not only interesting to see how much time a painter needs for his work, but also how many different time zones arose by attaching colors on a surface. With time zones, I mean the parts of a painting, on which the painter has worked for different time intervals at different times. When looking at the Rembrandt The Risen Christ (img. 6), one realizes that the painter tried to apply the paint in the dark areas very thin and at once, but in the light areas he used impasto and put several layers one onto of the other. Such a synthesis of various time zones in an area creates contrasts that create visual tension.

Rembrandt, Harmensz van Rijn, 1606-1669. 'Der auferstandene Christus', 1661. Oel auf Leinwand (oval), 78,5 x 63 cm. Inv.Nr. 6471 Muenchen, Alte Pinakothek.

(img. 6) Rembrandt, Harmensz van Rijn, 1606-1669. ‘Der auferstandene Christus’, 1661. Oel auf Leinwand (oval), 78,5 x 63 cm. Inv.Nr. 6471 Muenchen, Alte Pinakothek.


Matter is a term for the substance that all things are made of, regardless of their appearance. One has to distinguish between the matter of a painting (meaning the matter of the surface and matter of the surrounding) and the matter of the dye and the tool with which it is applied to the surface. The matter of the surrounding can be attached unaltered to the surface of the painting medium, like Andrei Rublev did in his Trinity (img. 7) using beatgold, egg tempera and lacquer.

Dreifaltigkeitsikone von Andrej Rubljow

(img. 7) Trinity, Andrei Rublev

Through the procedure of the painter, Rublev’s painting refers to the environment, but such a reference can also be avoided. The matter of the dye and the matter of the surface may form  the matter of the painting via the painter’s access with his tool. When looking at the Composition C (No.III), with Red, Yellow and Blue, from 1935 by Piet Mondrian at the Tate Modern (img. 8), I realized that the primed canvas, the oil paint and the brushmarks were hardly recognizable. The surface of the painting has its own, or appears as its own matter.

(img. 8) Composition C (no.III), with Red, Yellow and Blue, 1935 by Piet Mondrian

(img. 8) Composition C (no.III), with Red, Yellow and Blue, 1935 by Piet Mondrian

The painter

While painting the painter makes decisions regarding the handling and treatment of color, surface and movement, time, space, light and matter. The painting always refers to the painter and the communicated meaning.

Munich, October 2015

Thanks for help realizing this text to Prof. Bernhard Lypp, Stefan Schessl, Audrey Shimomura and Veronika Wenger


In ESSAYS on February 6, 2011 at 8:26 pm

Titian, “Crown of Thorn”, 1572 – 76, Alte Pinakothek, Munich

“…when one has character, one has talent. I’m not saying that character is enough, that it is enough to be a good man, in order to be able to paint well. That would be too easy. But I don’t believe that a reprobate can have artistic genius.” Paul Cezanne

My friend, the painter Gonghong Huang uses the term ‘character’ when he judges painting: “Look, what a good character this painting has!” or “This picture has no character!” I think I understand what Gonghong wants to say. Now I want to define the character for myself and ask what the character of paintings could be.

The word character in Greek means “feature”. In psychological terms ‘character’ means the properties of an individual, on stage it is the role one plays; ‘character’ means the combination of both congential and acquired intellectual and emotional features of a person. But what is the character of paintings or what may be the properties of a painting?

To answer this question, I have chosen three paintings: Titian’s “Crown of Thorn” from 1572 – 76, which can be seen in Munich’s Alte Pinakothek; Cezanne’s “Still Life with Skull and Candlestick” 1900 – 04 from the State Gallery Stuttgart und Mondrian’s “Composition Nr. I, with Red and Black” 1929, from the Kunstmuseum Basel.

When reading Stefan Schessl’s approval work for the state examination at the Academy of Fine Arts, Munich, I became aware of a phrase of art theorist Nikolai Tarabukin (1889-1956): “In painting, and in art in general, the problem of materials must be considered separately, in that the painter must acquire a developed sense of materials, he must feel the inherent characteristics of each material which of themselves condition the construction of the object. The material dictates the forms, and not the opposite.” Titian paints “Crown of Thorns” 1572 – 76 on thick canvas of a somewhat coarser structure. The painter leaves the dense and heavy character of the tissue clearly visible. Titian paints “alla prima”, he puts down the oil paint with light brush strokes, so that the colour remains on the surface and the structure of the canvas is shining through. The Venetian paints quickly, he is not waiting for the oil paint to dry completely. He uses the same brush on many different points of the canvas, applicates a colour on one point, takes up from this point two further colours and moves on to the next point. The painter lets the form grow out of the character of the oil paint. Cezanne creates “skull and candlesticks” the same way. “Im Horizont der Zeit. Heideggers Werkbegriff und die Kunst der Moderne” Gottfried Boehm writes about Paul Cezanne: “Attempting to approach this temporal structure that is dominating the painting, again we come across the presence of a colored matter, which is woven through all we see.” Cezanne masters the properties of oil paint. The colored matter is made out of strong and transparent and dense parts, out of parts that are applied wet on wet and wet on dry. For Piet Mondrian, however, the properties of oil paint are not essential. In “Composition Nr. I, with Red and Black” from 1929 Mondrian uses the oil paint as a means to clarify the character of the surface. He covers the surfaces layer by layer, until the entire surface results in a unitied consistancy.

Piet Mondrian, “Composition Nr. I, with Red and Black”, 1929, Kunstmuseum Basel

Piet Mondrian limited himself to the three primary colours, as well as black, gray and white. Only when I examine Mondrian’s works closely, I became aware that the artist has sought his primary colours while painting and found them by changing and repainting. In “Composition Nr. I, with red and black” the painter combined and distributed red, black and white so as to keep warm-cold and light-dark contrasts in exciting balance. Although Titian never covers up but preserves the brush strokes on the surface, his colours and shades cause the paintings depth and width. The deeper character of colour of intermingled veiled red, yellow, blue and white indicates to the viewer the visual motif of the painting. The balanced colouring of primary colours and white in “The Crown of Thorns” is guiding the eye continuously through the paintings lighter and darker areas. “Cezanne used blue to stress out his yellow, but like anything else he used it with his uncompared capacities of distinction.” – this way Matisse talked about Cezanne in 1908. In “Still Life with Skull and Candlestick” 1900-04 Paul Cezanne uses a complementary contrast. Orange-ocre und blue-gray are counterweights the painter lets collide with rapid brush strokes onto each other to complete the painting. In his book “The Art of Cezannes: Colour, Rhythm, Symbolism” Munich-based art historian Lorenz Dittmann describes Cezanne’s still life. The painting “lives from the contrast of cool blue-gray and yellow ocre. It is “unfinished” – in the sense that the canvas is not completely covered with colour, but the coloured zone within the gray-toned canvas consists a rhythmically full form…”

Paul Cezanne, “Still Life with Skull and Candlestick”, 1900 – 04, State Gallery Stuttgart

“We consider rhythm as a repetition of equally spaced accents. For its existence it requires a metre, a measurable unit of distance that allows the regularity of the flow (rhythm). … Such metre can be found in paintings, it is symmetry in the true sense of the word, the commitment to a basic measure. … But now this basic measure can be perceived through the marking accents in appearance, no matter how tender they might be. The emphasis is not without character, not mere emphasis, but rather steadily, irregular, skipping, burdensome, heavy, light, bright, serious and the like. There is nothing like a painting without metre and without rhythm, because only with these two unseparatable components of composition those parts of the work of art constituted, which give to a work of art its required entity.”, writes the art historian Kurt Badt. The late works of Titian and the “Crown of Thorns” are especially marked by the rhythm within the placement of colour. The uniform spacing and regular accents of colour brought onto the canvas with the brush all over the entire surface in different speeds constitute a complete form in terms of rhythm. “All his works are rhythmisized and metric, but in some of his watercolours the basic lines of the metrication still remain visible”, as Lorenz Dittmann writes about Cezanne. Horizontal and vertical outlines and basic lines of the still life bring forth the framework of a rhythmically organized application of colour. The basic lines separate and combine the distances and accents, which stem from repetition and regularity. “True Boogie-Woogie I conceive as homogeneous in intention with mine in painting: destruction of melody which is the equivalent of destruction of natural appearance; and construction through the continuous opposition of pure means – dynamic rhythm.”, Piet Mondrian says. And in the Text “Mondrian and the Music” Karin v. Maur writes: “Of all rhythms, the rhythm of the vertical-horizontal position is the most fundamental. It is therefore that a perfect balance penetrates everything. … In the magnetic field between the “metre” of the given plane with its division into horizontals and verticals and the rhythmically displaced points of gravity of the colour spots and the axial displacements, the pictorial action takes place.” In “Composition No. I, with red and black” Piet Mondrian rhythmisizes the space-time by variable relations of straight lines and pure colours. As with Cezanne and Titian rhythm dominates Mondrian’s Painting; in the process of perception rhythm attacks and overwhelms the visible. “The purest rhythm must be the purest expression of life … all expressions of rhythm are true.”, says Piet Mondrian.

Thanks for help realizing this text to Prof. Bernhard Lypp, Stefan Schessl and Marion Sally Amy Whyte


In ESSAYS on December 28, 2010 at 1:31 pm

Tizian, Dornenkrönung, 1572-1576, Alte Pinakothek, München

“… wenn man Charakter hat, hat man Talent… Ich sage nicht, daß der Charakter genügt, daß es genügt, ein ordentlicher Mensch zu sein, um gut zu malen. Das wäre zu leicht. Aber ich glaube nicht, daß ein dreister, liederlicher Kerl Genie haben kann.” Paul Cezanne

Mein Freund, der Maler Gonghong Huang, verwendet den Begriff ‘Charakter’, wenn er über Malerei urteilt: “Schau, was für einen guten Charakter dieses Gemälde hat!” oder “Dieses Bild ist charakterlos!” Ich glaube, ich verstehe was Gonghong meint. Nun will ich Charakter für mich definieren und frage mich selbst, was der Charakter von Gemälden sein könnte.

Das Wort Charakter bedeutet im Griechischen “Merkmal”. In der Psychologie bezeichnet ‘Charakter’ die Eigenschaften eines Individuums, auf der Bühne die Rolle, die man spielt; ‘Charakter’ bezeichnet die Gesamtheit der angeborenen und anerzogenen geistig-seelischen Eigenschaften eines Menschen. Was ist aber der Charakter der Malerei oder was sind die Eigenschaften eines Gemäldes?

Um diese Frage zu beantworten habe ich drei Gemälde ausgesucht: Tizian’s “Dornenkrönung” von 1572 – 76, das in der Münchner Alten Pinakothek zu sehen ist; Cezanne’s “Stilleben mit Totenkopf und Leuchter” 1900 – 04 aus der Staatsgalerie Stuttgart und Mondrian’s “Komposition Nr. I, mit Rot und Schwarz” 1929, aus dem Kunstmuseum Basel.

Beim Lesen von Stefan Schessls Zulassungsarbeit zum Staatsexamen an der Akademie der bildenden Künste München bin ich auf ein Zitat des Kunsttheoretikers Nikolai Tarabukin (1889-1956) aufmerksam geworden: “In der Malerei und in der Kunst im allgemeinen muß das Problem der Materialien separat behandelt werden, d.h. der Maler muß ein Gefühl für Materialien entwickeln, er muß die jedem Material eigenen Charakteristika spüren, die die Konstruktion eines Objekts mitbestimmen. Das Material diktiert die Form und nicht umgekehrt.” Das Gemälde “Dornenkrönung” von 1572 – 76 malt Tizian auf dichtem Leinen von etwas gröberer Struktur. Der Maler lässt den dichten und schweren Charakter des Gewebes deutlich erkennen. Tizian malt “alla prima”, er bringt die Ölfarbe mit leichten Pinselstrichen an, sodass die Farbe auf der Oberfläche verharrt und die  Struktur des Leinens durchleuchtet. Der Venezianer malt schnell, er wartet nicht bis die Ölfarbe trocken wird. Er geht mit demselben Pinsel über viele Stellen der Leinwand, trägt eine Farbe auf eine Stelle auf, nimmt von diese Stelle zwei Farben mit und geht zur dritten Stelle über. Der Maler lässt die Formen durch den Charakter der Ölfarbe wachsen. Auf dieselbe Weise entstehen Totenkopf und Leuchter bei Cezanne. “Im Horizont der Zeit. Heideggers Werkbegriff und die Kunst der Moderne” schreibt Gottfried Boehm über Paul Cezanne: “Versucht man, jener temporalen Struktur näherzukommen, die das Bild beherrscht, so stoßen wir auch hier auf die Präsenz einer farbigen Materie, die alles, was wir sehen, durchwirkt.” Cezanne beherrscht die Eigenschaften der Ölfarbe. Die farbige Materie besteht aus starkem und gering verdünntem Auftrag, aus transparenten und dichten Stellen, aus Teilen, die nass auf nass und nass auf trocken aufgetragen sind. Für Piet Mondrian dagegen waren die Eigenschaften der Ölfarbe nicht wesentlich. In “Komposition Nr. I, mit Rot und Schwarz” von 1929 nutzt Mondrian das Öl als Mittel, um den Charakter der Oberfläche zu verdeutlichen. Er übermalt die Flächen Schicht für Schicht so oft, bis die gesamte Oberfläche des Gemäldes zu einer einheitliche Materie wird.

Piet Mondrian, Komposition Nr. I, mit Rot und Schwarz, 1929, Kunstmuseum Basel

Piet Mondrian beschränkt sich auf die drei Grundfarben, sowie auf Schwarz, Grau und Weiß. Erst wenn ich Mondrian’s Werke hautnah angeschaut habe, stelle ich fest, dass der Maler seine Grundfarben während des Malens gesucht und durch Veränderung und Übermalen gefunden hat. In “Komposition Nr. I, mit Rot und Schwarz” kombiniert und verteilt der Maler Rot, Schwarz und Weiß derart, dass Warm-Kalt- und Hell-Dunkel-Kontraste sich in spannendem Gleichgewicht halten. Obwohl Tizian seinen Farbauftrag nie vertuscht und den Pinselduktus auf der Oberfläche festhält, bewirken seine Farben und ihre Abstufungen Tiefe und Weite des Gemäldes. Der tiefere Farbcharakter aus ineinander verhülltem Rot, Gelb, Blau und Weiß weist den Betrachter auf das visuelle Motiv des Gemäldes hin. Das aus den Grundfarben und Weiß ausbalancierte Kolorit der Dornenkrönung führt das Auge ununterbrochen über hellere und dunklere Stellen des Gemäldes. “Cezanne verwendete Blau, um sein Gelb zur Geltung zu bringen, aber er benützte es wie alles andere mit jedem Unterscheidungsvermögen, dessen niemand sonst fähig war.” – so äusserte sich Matisse 1908 über Cezanne. Paul Cezanne benutzt im “Stilleben mit Totenkopf und Leuchter” von 1900 – 04 einen komplementären Kontrast. Orangeocker und Blaugrau sind Gegengewichte, die der Maler mit schnellen Pinselstrichen auf einander stoßen lässt bis das Gemälde vervollständigt ist. Der Münchner Kunsthistoriker Lorenz Dittmann beschreibt in seinem Buch “Die Kunst Cezannes: Farbe, Rhythmus, Symbolik” Cezanne’s Stilleben. Das Gemälde “lebt aus dem Kontrast von kühlem Blaugrau und gelblichen Ockertönen. Es ist “unvollendet” – in dem Sinne, daß die Leinwand nicht überall mit Farbe bedeckt wurde. Aber die farbige Zone innerhalb des grautonigen Leinwandgrundes bildet eine rhythmisch vollständige Form…”

Paul Cezanne, Stilleben mit Totenkopf und Leuchter, 1900 – 04, Staatsgalerie Stuttgart

“Unter Rhythmus verstehen wir eine in gleichmäßigen Abständen sich wiederholende Betonung. Sie setzt für ihre Existenz ein Metrum, eine meßbare Einheit der Abstände voraus, die die Regelmäßigkeit des Flusses (Rhythmus) ermöglicht. … Solches Metrum zeigen auch Werke der Malerei, es ist die Symmetrie im ursprünglichen Sinne des Wortes, das Einhalten eines Grundmaßes. … Diese Grunddistanz wird aber nun wahrnehmbar durch die ihre jeweiligen Einsätze in der Erscheinung markierenden Betonungen, mögen diese noch so zart sein. Die Betonung ist aber nicht ohne Charakter, nicht bloße Betonung, vielmehr stetig, unregelmäßig, hüpfend, lastend, schwer, leicht, heiter, ernst und dergleichen. Ohne Metrum und ohne Rhythmus kann kein Gemälde sein, weil durch diese beiden voneinander untrennbaren Kompositionsmittel erst jene Teile in demselben konstituiert werden, die ein Kunstwerk als Ganzheit, als die es gefordert wird, ermöglichen.”, schreibt der Kunsthistoriker Kurt Badt. Das Spätwerk Tizian’s und die “Dornenkrönung” zumal sind durch den Rhythmus bei dem Anbringen von Farben gekennzeichnet. Die gleichmässigen Abstände und regelmässigen Akzente der mit dem Pinsel in unterschiedlichen Tempi über die gesamte Fläche des Gemäldes angebrachte Farbe bilden eine rhythmisch vollständige Form. “Alle seine Werke sind rhythmisiert und metrisiert, aber an einigen seiner Aquarelle sind noch die Grundlinien der Metrisierung zu sehen.”, schreibt Lorenz Dittmann über Cezanne. Senkrechte und Waagrechte Konturen und Grundlinien des Stillebens bringen den Rahmen für einen rhythmisch gestalteten Farbauftrag hervor. Die Grundlinien trennen und verbinden die Abstände und die Betonungen, die durch Wiederholung und Regelmäßigkeit entstanden sind. “Echten Boogie-Woogie begreife ich vom Ansatz her als homogen mit meiner malerischen Intention: Zerstörung der Melodie, was der Zerstörung der natürlichen Erscheinung gleichkommt, und Konstruktion durch die fortlaufende Gegenüberstellung reiner Mittel – dynamischer Rhythmus.”, sagt, Piet Mondrian. Und in dem Text “Mondrian und die Musik” schreibt Karin v. Maur: “Von allen Rhythmen ist der Rhythmus der Horizontal- und Vertikal-Stellung der tiefste Grund. Von daher ist in allem doch eine Ausgeglichenheit. … Im Spannungsfeld zwischen Beat und Off-Beat ebenso wie zwischen dem “Metrum” der vorgegebenen Fläche mit ihrer Horizontal-Vertikal-Gliederung und den rhythmisch versetzen Schwerpunkten der Farbeinsätze und Achsenverschiebungen vollzieht sich das Bildgeschehen.” In “Komposition Nr. I, mit Rot und Schwarz” rhythmisiert Piet Mondrian den Zeitraum durch variable Verhältnisse gerader Linien und reiner Farben. Wie bei Cezanne und Tizian beherrscht der Rhythmus Mondrian’s Gemälde; beim Betrachten greift der Rhythmus das Sichtbare an und zwingt sich diesem auf. “Der reinste Rhythmus muß der reinste Ausdruck des Lebens sein… Alle Ausdrucksweisen des Rhythmus sind wahr.”, sagt Piet Mondrian.

Besonderen Dank für die Hilfe bei der Realisierung dieses Textes an Prof. Bernhard Lypp


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