ABSTRACT IMPRESSIONS: KANDINSKY’S URREALIST PAINTINGS
An Urrealist work is one hand clapping.
Two Urrealist works are three.
In my essay, What is Urrealism? (2002), I draw out three central attributes of Urrealist art. They are:
1. Urrealism is always done in relationship, intended to serve relationship.
2. Urrealism has a spiritual component.
3. Urrealism bears the fingerprint of the times.
Using those 3 identifying features, it is possible to bring to light sufficient evidence that
Wassily Kandinsky’s Impressions are Urrealist works and are best understood that way. They all indicate an absent other, as well as the relationship between them. It follows, then, that Kandinsky has left doorways that still invite us to hear the Ur-language of the conversation, the Urreality in which he lived best. All we must do is place the Impressions side by side with their inspirations and allow ourselves to receive and respond. Nowhere can this be experienced more fully than in Kandinsky’s tableau, Impression III (Concert) which I submit is an Urrealist response to the concert of Scheonberg’s music, performed on January 2, 1911, in Munich, Germany.
In his booklet, Concerning the Spiritual in Art, Kandinsky (1911) uses the image of a slowly rising triangle to express the relationship between the solitude of the visionary artist who enlightens his/her culture and the rest of that culture. For Wassily, from the solitary stance at the point, the visionary drags the greater mass of people in the base of the triangle upward. He writes that what at first is harshly criticized by the greater percentage as “incomprehensible gibberish” is eventually understood. The understanding comes years later, once the majority finally arrives at the place of perception previously occupied by the visionary. He offers Beethoven as an example.
In chapter 3, entitled Spiritual Revolution, Kandinsky identifies those whom he considers to be of the visionary type. His list includes the poet, Maeterlinck, the composers, Debussy and Schoenberg, and the founder of the Theosophical Society, Blavatsky.
From one Urrealist to another, speaking across the years between us, I say, “Wassily, I think you were telling those indicated in your list that they were not speaking in gibberish, but to the contrary, were speaking quite clearly in a language that you could hear and understand. What was awake and prophetic in you was inspired and confirmed by what was prophetic and awake in them. The same leading edge of your times that you had intuited was being expressed through those metaphors most appropriate to each. Your essay, Concerning the Spiritual in Art, was a call that you made, not only to the ones you mentioned, but to anyone who had ears to hear.”
Chapter 6 of, Concerning the Spiritual in Art, is called, The Language of Form and Colour. The chapter is fundamental for understanding what I have called, attempting to speak in sacred writing in a time of tremendous materialist compression and oppression. Kandinsky expands and transforms (magnifies) the painted image into a sacred form and color expansive enough to express what he calls his inner need. He writes:
The strife of colours, the sense of balance we have lost, tottering principles, unexpected assaults, great questions, apparently useless striving, storm and tempest, broken chains, antitheses and contradictions, these make up our harmony. The composition arising from this harmony is a mingling of colour and form each with its separate existence, but each blended into a common life which is called a picture by the force of inner need. (p. 43)
With the above in mind, it is no surprise that on that January evening in Munich, the artist would hear a familiar voice speaking back to him through Schoenberg’s compositions. The composer’s creative and growing edge offered a prophetic musical image that confirmed and inspired what Kandinsky had intuited. In fact, the painter was so moved by the concert that he immediately set to work answering Schoenberg with Impression III. He would answer art with art, both to let the composer know that he heard what the music said and to invite him into the deeper space, the Urreality of communicating through artforms.
I am deeply indebted to the book, Scheonberg, Kandinsky and the Blue Rider, published in 2003 by The Jewish Museum in New York and Scala Publishers. Fred Wasserman’s essay, Schoenberg and Kandinsky in Concert, contains sketches and excerpts from letters between the two. A CD in the back of the book contains the Schoenberg compositions heard that night by Kandinsky. With this book, it is finally possible to understand Kandinsky as the Urrealist he was. Not only is it possible to demonstrate that Kandinsky’s Impressions are examples of Urrealism, but even more importantly, by contemplating the painting while listening to the music, it’s possible to directly experience Urreality, something I consider a necessary gnosis for anyone wishing to understand Urrealism.
The first attribute of Urrealist art is that it is always done in relationship, intended to serve relationship. Evidence of the relationship first appears in Kandinsky’s immediate reaction to the January 2nd concert. He can’t but help to respond because the creative spark within him was illuminated directly. Wasserman (2003) writes that Kandinsky made two quick sketches of the performance, quite possibly during the performance itself. The next day, he made a large painting in oil. The depth of empathy is expressed by Wassily himself in his first letter to Schoenberg, the letter that came to the composer’s home along with Impression III (Concert). He wrote:
…what we are striving for and our whole manner of thought and feeling have so much in common that I feel completely justified in expressing my empathy. (p. 25)
We know that Kandinsky’s Urrealist response hit the mark because Schoenberg says so in his first letter to Kandinsky. The musician responded:
I am sure that our work has much in common — and indeed in the most important respects: in what you call the “unlogical” and I call the “elimination of the conscious will in art.” I also agree with what you write about the constructive element…I think we would have a lot to say to each other. (p. 25)
Wasserman goes on to note that the ensuing Kandinsky and Schoenberg correspondence reveals, a wonderful mixture of abstruse theory, keen interest in each other’s work, and many warm personal expressions of concern and fellowship. (p. 27)
The second attribute of Urrealist art is its spiritual component. Kandinsky points out the spiritual dimension in Schoenberg’s music in Concerning the Spiritual in Art, he writes:
Schoenberg is endeavoring to make complete use of his freedom and has already discovered gold mines of new beauty in his search for spiritual harmony. His music leads us into a realm where musical experience is not a matter of the ear, but of the soul alone — and from this point begins the music of the future. (p. 17)
The third attribute of Urrealist art is how it carries the fingerprint of the times. In other descriptions of Urrealism (2001; 2002; 2004) , I have called this the growing edge, the wave at the edge, the clock of the soul. It is possible to make the case for this by citing the importance that both men put on expanding perception and expression to include the unconscious, something that was au courant in the early 20th century. However, our two friends are a living example of the Urrealist Parable of the Two Sleepers. The parable says that:
Once upon a time, two friends lay down and went to sleep.
They slept the whole night through, but in the morning were
awakened by a conversation that was going on. As each awakened
more, s/he realized that the voices were their own. In fact, they were
waking up in a conversation that began in their sleep. As each
sleep-talker awoke, s/he joyfully continued the conversation,
wide awake in the dream.
We have the advantage of the historical record to see how Kandinsky’s creativity
carried the fingerprint of the times, not merely in how the times impressed their marks upon it, but how his work consciously transported and shaped that fingerprint. Kandinsky carried the fingerprint of the times in this second, deeper sense, when he worked as an Urrealist, especially when he answered Schoenberg.
AFTERWARD AND ONWARD
It hasn’t escaped me that the majority of this essay was written on January 2, 2005, 96 years to the day after that concert in Munich, the evening I consider to be Kandinsky’s awakening as an Urrealist. What resulted was a mutual confirmation of the other’s prophetic, growing edge. Schoenberg said as much in the inscription to his Theory of Harmony that he mailed to Kandinsky in 1911. He confided to Kandinsky, we are on the same path. I think that this mutual confirmation supplied a necessary foundation to what Kandinsky would go on to produce with Franz Marc in the Blue Rider Almanac of 1912. It must be said that the anti-semitism and the wars of the 20th century impoverished its artistic legacy, certainly that of the shared work of Kandinsky and Schoenberg.
In the preceeding days, I have been in their space, entered its Urreality. I can offer witness that their space is alive and well, that it remains inspirational and active. I feel it, even now, as I write. I invite you, dear reader into their space, into the Urreality. Go get the book, Schoenberg, Kandinsky and the Blue Rider. If you are not able to do that, go the internet and google Kandinsky’s painting, Impression III (Concert) and go to the library and get recordings of Schoenberg’s Op. 10, Op. 11, Op 2 and Op. 6, Op. 20. To enliven and expand their space, I add the ur-constellation , Transparent Body of the King. (Reynolds, 2004) And so, I close proclaiming the heavenly presence brought close, the presence of the spiritual in art, bequeathed to us by our creative forebears, especially Wassily Kandinsky in his Urrealist Impressions.
Transparent Body of the King
Beyond and within the constellation of Cepheus, are three galaxies and one nebula. They are, IC5132, IC5133, IC5134, and NGC7133, respectively. As in the Eagle-headed Harp, what first appears as one becomes fourfold when magnified. For the individual, this means that you will recognize fellow travelers by the knowledge of your heart. There is a mirroring, a spark of awakeness, a heart response of those awake in creation. There is also a heart’s desire to be in community. Knowing your reason for being is incomplete without community where you can give completely and receive completely. The Transparent Body of the King
represents any ritual, temporary festival, retreat, seminar or teach-in, where such hearts can gather.
It also represents the temporal clarity, the synchronicity, that forms around such relationships. Any ritual space where care
of soul is the intent is an example of this ur-constellation. The urreality of 2 who converse artfully, who affirm and awaken
the other’s growing edge, is yet another example. This body of the order of love has many other names: Font, Conjugal Love,
House where Ancestors Commune, Coniunctio, 3 +4, 5 Dogs Walking, Convergence, Fuel Cell, Philosopher’s Mirror, Mediation,
Alternation, Tent of tents, Matrix and Patrix, where 2 or more are gathered in His Name, Heart of Elders holding Council Fire,
Sun Dance, Palace of the Merrie Monarch, Communitas, Peace Shield.
sang Lennon prophetically.
The Messenger says of this,
In isolation, there is no strength, there is no comfort, there is no stability, there is no safety. But in the family there is all of this and more. For when there is comfort and stability and safety there is expansion. When there is isolation, there is fear. Come into the family, says the stars, into relation.
da Costa Meyer, E. & Wasserman, F. (eds.) (2003). Schoenberg, kandinsky, and the blue
rider. London, New York, Paris: Scala
Kandinsky, W. (1911). Concerning the spiritual in art. (trans. Sadler). New York:
Reynolds, F. C. (2001). Intercede: the urrealist manifesto. www.urrealist.com.
Reynolds, F. C. (2002). What is urrealism? www.urrealist.com.
Reynolds, F. C. (2004). The age of magnification: lamp of the archer. Ashland, Ohio: