Monday, 22 November 2010

Module 2 Introduction

Module 2 - at last.

I am delighted to be starting Module 2! The first module took far too long - 10 months - and I am going to try and complete this module by the end of April. I do seem to be able to get more work done over the winter months - I'm not sure why.

This module uses animal markings as the inspiration, and no colour, just black and white throughout. It looks really exciting. Collecting visual information is the first step. I focussed in on the markings rather than show the entire animal. Very interesting how similar some of them look despite being from different animals.

Having printed everything out in colour, I printed everything again in black and white, which makes the similarities even more marked.

The next task is to write a list of descriptive words, and then make a series of marks relating to the list. I chose butterfly and tiger, because they are so different. I'm not a word person, and I kept adding to my list over a few days, and I also don't find it particularly easy to translate words into marks, but I am reasonably pleased with the lists and the marks.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Module 1 - loose ends

All modules require timings and costings for the work that has been done. I kept detailed records of the time I spent chapter by chapter.


Chapter 1 18.5 hours

Chapter 2 16.5 hours

Chapter 3 25 hours

Chapter 4 14.4 hours

Chapter 5 3 hours

Chapter 6 9.5 hours

Chapter 7 31 hours

Chapter 8 22.5 hours

Chapter 9 17.5 hours

Chapter 10 18.5 hours

Chapter 11 39.5 hours

Chapter 12 14 hours

TOTAL 230 hours

I didn't keep careful notes about what things cost. I actually bought very little, with most of what I used coming from my stash, so I have tried to estimate what it has cost.


Sketchbook 4.50

Paper 5.00

Art materials 7.50

Fabric 50.00

Threads 10.00

TOTAL £77.00

The most difficult thing to estimate is the amount of fabric I used, because there are so many layers in some of the pieces. So I have assumed 10metres of fabric at £5 per metre.

Lesson learnt for the next module - keep a careful note of materials used.

Module 1 Chapter 12

Study three artists
Part 3 - Herta Puls

Herta Puls

Herta Puls was born in Germany in 1915, and trained as a radiographer and medical technician before coming to England in 1935. In the 1960s she studied embroidery and textile design .

She started research into the Kuna Indians and their textiles in the late 1960s, studying molas at the British Museum and the Ethnographical Museum in Gothenburg, as well as making study trips to the San Blas Islands off Panama. Her research resulted in the publication of her book “The Art of Cutwork and Applique – Historic, Modern and Kuna Indian” published in 1978. Her book generated considerable interest in the beauty of molas, and the skill involved in their creation.

The word mola means cloth, but has come to mean both the blouse and the embroidered panels, one for the front, and one for the back, used to create the blouses, worn by the Kuna Indian women of the San Blas Islands. The panels are made of generally up to 5 layers of cotton fabric and the intricate patterns are created using reverse appliqué techniques.

The exact origin of these panels is not known for certain, but the patterns are thought to originate in body painting, before being transferred to cloth probably about 150 years ago. The body painting and the patterns on the older molas are animals and plants. In the Kuna religion every human, plant and animal had a soul, and could contain good or bad spirits. Portraying them ensured protection from evil spirits.

The oldest molas that remain usually have three layers – often black, red and yellow – and the designs were simple stylized geometric human, animal and plant forms. More modern molas have up to 5 layers, and often include extra small pieces tucked in to a particular area. This appears to have given rise to blocks of vertical lines being worked to reduce the bulk of the fabric which was making it less practical to wear and work in.

The two examples below both come from the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford. Neither are early examples, but the first is typical of the all-over geometric design often seen in early molas. The second example is thought to have been made in the 1960s and has a larger central motif and more colours than earlier molas. It also shows the blocks of vertical lines.

I think molas, particularly the earlier ones, are beautiful, both in terms of colour and design. The workmanship is superb, requiring not only considerable skill, but also patience.


The Art of Cutwork and Applique Herta Puls ISBN 0 7134 0476 0

Textiles of the Kuna Indians of Panama Herta Puls ISBN 0 85263 942 2

Twentieth Century Embroidery in Great Britain from 1978 Constance Howard ISBN 0 7134 4658 7

Friday, 5 November 2010

Module 1 Chapter 12

Study three artists.
Part 2 : Piet Mondrian

I have chosen Mondrian to study as I discovered his “black and white” paintings when I first went to art school in the 1960s, and that led me to discover the tree paintings which he made earlier in his career. Apart from being very beautiful, they and his later style are filled with intersecting lines, so it seemed like a good opportunity to get reacquainted with his work.

Piet Mondrian (1872 – 1944)

Mondrian was almost an exact contemporary of Kandinsky, having been born into a strict Calvinist family in 1872 in Amersfoort in Holland, the second of 5 children. His father and his uncle were both gifted amateur artists, and they taught him to draw and paint. It was his father’s intention that he should become an art teacher, and despite receiving the necessary diplomas, he decided to become an artist, and enrolled at the Royal Academy in Amsterdam in 1892, where the courses were classical.

His early work is primarily naturalistic or impressionistic landscapes, using a dark, muted colour palate. Typical of this period is Farm with line of washing c 1900 It appears to be accepted that much of his work from this period was aimed at the art market in Holland to enable him to earn a living, rather than as a search for a personal style, but throughout the first decade of the twentieth century a personal style does begin to develop as his colour palate lightens and contrasts within his work heightens, and then by the middle of the decade reflects the influence of Pointillism and Fauvism.

Farm at Duivendrecht c 1907 (not a very good image, but the best I could find) is a beautiful picture, with the winter trees against the sky reduced to an extraordinary pattern of crossing lines . Trees had featured in his work for some time, and he gradually reduced his landscapes to single trees to enable him to concentrate on the form. The Red Tree 1908-1910 is a dynamic and rhythmic work, using a simple contrast of blue and red.

Mondrian moved to Paris in 1912, and the influence of Cubism and Picasso and Braque showed very quickly in his work . He continued to work with the tree theme, and five paintings from 1912 – 1913, which demonstrate how quickly his style developed, can be seen here (images 23 – 28).

He returned to Holland in 1914 to visit his sick father, and was unable to return to Paris because of the outbreak of WW1. During this period, he was introduced to Kandinsky’s book On the Spiritual in Art, and this, with his already strong interest in Theosophy, led to him developing an entirely abstract style, which he called Neoplasticism.

By the time he returned to Paris after the end of the war, he was painting grid based pictures, the style for which he became best know. Composition with Red, Blue, Black, Yellow and Gray painted in 1921 is typical . It consists of a black grid with patches of the three primary colour, plus gray.

The outbreak of WW2 forced him to move to first London and then America, where he stayed until he died in 1944. His work had continued to develop between the wars in Paris, perhaps most significant being the introduction of coloured lines. This developed further in New York, culminating in a series of paintings, where the black lines have been entirely replaced by coloured lines, and there are far more rectangles, including on the lines themselves. Broadway Boogie-Woogie 1942 -3 , a riot of movement, pure colour and rythym, is his last completed picture. Victory Boogie-Woogie which remained unfinished at his death is particularly interesting to the artist as it shows his working methods of sticking rectangles of coloured paper to the canvas which he was able to move about until he was satisfied.

Mondrian’s work has had a huge influence on many aspects of art and design – fashion, graphic design, advertising. Although attempts have been made to belittle his work by saying it could have been done by a child, it is quite clear that his work is conceptual, and comes from a life long search for harmony, based on his spirituality.

All of what I said about what the artist can learn from Kandinsky applies equally to Mondrian. Having looked closely at their lives and their work, given that they are almost exact contemporaries, I find it fascinating that they both set out to free their work from representation and make it abstract, and that having both started working primarily from nature, albeit with a entirely different set of influences and experiences, they both reached their goals in such different ways.


Mondrian John Milner ISBN 0 7143 3167 0

Mondrian The Art of Destruction Carel Blotkamp ISBN 0-948462-61-2

Mondrian: Flowers David Shapiro ISBN 0-8109-3615-1


Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Module 1 Chapter 12

Study three Artists.
Part 1 : Kandinsky

Wassily Kandinsky (1866 – 1944)

Wassily Kandinski was born into an upper middle class family in Moscow in 1866.He spent most of his childhood in Odessa, where he started taking lessons in drawing and music from the age of 6. Lacking the confidence to become an artist, he returned to Moscow in 1886 to study law and economics, graduating in 1892.

Art and music continued to interest him, and a number of experiences while he was a student – discovering the folk art of northern Russia; a performance of Lohengrin in Moscow; the discovery of paintings by Rembrandt at the Hermitage in St Petersburg; and most significantly, seeing one of Monet’s Haystacks series and failing to recognise the subject – persuaded him to pursue a career as an artist in 1896. He moved to Munich where he studied and exhibited, and over the next few years he travelled extensively throughout Europe, before settling back in Munich in 1906.

Throughout his career, he sought an abstract means of expression, and spent a lot of time writing. From early on, he saw parallels between music and painting, and often used musical terms to describe what he was doing. He wrote a series of prose-poems between 1908 and 1912, entitled “Klange” (Sounds), he published what he regarded as his most important theoretical work entitled “Uber das Geistige in der Kunst” (On the Spiritual in Art) in 1911, and devised a number of abstract stage productions.

Although a number of other artists in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were pushing towards abstraction, Kandinsky is generally recognised as the pioneer of abstract painting. He himself regarded Untitled (First abstract watercolour) 1910 as his first truly abstract piece.

He was extremely prolific, making many drawings and paintings. Couple riding 1906 is one of a number of “romantic” pictures painted while he was in Munich, which draw on childhood memories and Russian folklore. They are extremely decorative, and show a wonderful use of colour.

The starting point in his search for abstraction was the landscape often with figures, and he sought to free his work from the conventions of perspective and to use colour unrelated to the object.

In Houses in Munich 1908, there is still perspective, and his wonderful use of colour, which shows a clear influence of the Fauves, is moving away from being representartional.

Murnau with Church 1910 , is clearly still a landscape, but all perspective is gone.

Between 1910 and 1914, Kandinsky produced two series of paintings, “Improvisations” and “Compositions”, in which he continued to push towards complete abstraction They do still contain allusions to the representational world , but he used colour in an entirely unrepresentational way. Kandinsky himself said that he wasn’t able to entirely remove representational references from his work until 1914. Composition IV 1911 and Improvisation 26 1912 are typical of these series.

With the outbreak of WW1, he left Munich and returned to Moscow, where he became a member of the Fine Arts Department of the People’s Commissariat of Enlightenment, and teaching and his work in setting up a number of museums throughout Russia took up the greater part of his time. He remained In Moscow until 1921 when he found himself increasingly at odds with the Communist approach to art, and he moved back to Germany to take up a teaching post at the Bauhaus in Weimar.

While he was in Moscow, he continued painting in an abstract way, as well as impressionistic landscapes and romantic fantasies. I find it interesting that he was able to work in a variety of representational styles alongside his abstract work. During his period in Moscow, his abstract work became more geometric. Red Oval 1920 is typical of this period, and it is interesting to compare this piece with Murnau with Church from 1910 to see to what extent his work had become truly abstract.

The Bauhaus, set up in 1919 by the architect Walter Gropius, was a progressive art school that was extremely influential on the visual arts in the 20th century. His teaching left little time for his own work, but in 1922 he produced a series of 12 lithographs, woodcuts and etchings, Small Worlds, highly original abstract compositions, which draw on motifs from his earlier works, and the immense wealth of his imagination.

He regarded Composition VIII 1923 as his most important work of the post war years. In her book “Kandinsky”, Ulrike Becks-Malorny says of this work:

“Circles and lines are the dominant forms and combine into a strict geometry. The sense of intellectuality and coolness is heightened by the matt, restrained colours of the pictorial ground. A black circular form in the top left hand corner sounds an authoritative, sombre note and provides a strong accent within the composition. Its red aura, the black wavy line beneath it and the haloes surrounding the yellow and blue circles are the only non-geometric elements in the picture, yet even these are still far from being figurative. Indeed none of the elements in Composition VIII can be traced back to representational origins.”

In “Reflections on Abstract Art” in 1931, Kandinsky said:

“The contact between the acute angle of a triangle and a circle has no less effect than that of God’s finger touching Adam’s in Michelangelo.”

Kandinsky’s major preoccupation at the Bauhaus were the relationships between colour and form, and the systematic study of individual elements., ideas which he had already introduced in “On the Spiritual in Art”. For example, he believed that the effect of yellow as a “sharp” colour, is emphasised when combined with a sharp form, such as a triangle, and the effect of a deeper colour such as blue is reinforced by rounded forms.

Probably his most important painting from the Bauhaus period is Yellow-Red-Blue 1925 , a composition combining the primary colours and complex forms and lines.

The Bauhaus was always under attack from the conservative right, and in 1931, the National Socialists started a concerted attack, which eventually led to its closure in 1932, when Kandinsky moved to Paris. A large number of his and other artists’ works were destroyed when the Nazis branded the work as degenerate.

He found it extremely difficult to become part of the art world in Paris. Abstract art had always found it difficult to gain recognition, but particularly so in Paris in the 1930s, where Cubism and Surrealism dominated. A number of essays by Kandinsky defending abstract art were published.

Sky Blue 1940 is typical of the works from his final years in Paris. Entirely invented shapes float against an atmospheric background. Kandinsky described his work from this period as a “picturesque fairytale”. His colour palate became much softer.

He remained in Paris throughout the war and continued to work until his death in 1944. With art materials becoming increasingly scarce, he painted his last large scale canvas in 1942, and then restricted himself to smaller formats on cardboard.

The artist, let alone the embroiderer, has much to learn from Kandinsky’s work –

  • the juxtaposition of shapes and colours
  • wonderful use of pure colour, particularly in his earlier work
  • the feeling of shapes and movement created by the shapes and colours
  • the dedication, single-mindedness and determination to achieve his goals


Kandinsky Ulrike Becks-Malorny ISBN 978-3-8228-3564-7

Kandinsky The Masterworks Ramon Tio Bellido ISBN 1-85170-147-8