Saturday, 2 June 2012

Module One. Chapter Twelve

Study Three Artists

Herta Puls 1915 -

Herta Puls was born in 1915 in Germany where she remained until 1935 when she moved to England and began her studies in embroidery. Herta studied at the West of England Art College, Newport Art College and the London College of Fashion.  It was whilst studying for her City and Guilds Certificate in Advanced Embroidery that she chose to research the Appliqué of the Kuna Indians of Panama and this led her to make several visits to the San Blas archipelago off Panama. Following her extensive study into the textiles of the Kuna people Herta wrote two books: Cutwork and Appliqué, Historic, Modern and Kuna Indian (Batsford 1978) and Textiles of the Kuna Indians of Panama (Shire Ethnography 1988); she has also lectured on Kuna embroidery all over Britain.

The Kuna people are the largest indigenous group in Panama numbering approximately 60,000; they have populated the 360 islands in the San Blas archipelago and the narrow strip on the Caribbean coast of Panama and Colombia since the 18thcentury.

At the beginning of the 20th century the Panamanian government attempted to "westernise" the Kuna by forbidding their customs, their language and their traditional dress; a huge wave of resistance arose culminating in the Kuna revolution of 1925. Following this the Kuna people were given the right to govern their own territory autonomously.

The Kuna in the traditional communities are engaged in agriculture, fishing, and trading with coco nuts but the women are responsible for the main part of the family income by selling their traditional Mola panels.

Molas are used to form the front and back panels of the blouses worn by the Kuna women as part of the traditional dress; they are constructed from several layers of coloured fabric using a hand stitched reverse appliqué process where the designs are cut in the layers, allowing multiple underlying layers to show through.
The traditional dress also consists of a patterned blue cotton skirt, red and orange headscarf, glass bead strings on wrists and ankles and gold nose rings and earrings.

Early designs for the molas use geometric patterns that have their origins in body painting; traditional themes from Kuna legends are also represented by the use of abstract designs of flowers, animals and birds. Designs have, however, adapted and modern western influences such as political posters, labels, pictures from books and TV cartoons can now be seen worked in these traditional techniques.

It takes many hours of careful sewing to create the finest mola and the ability to make an outstanding mola is a source of status among Kuna women.

The quality of a mola is determined by:

  • the number of layers
  • fineness of the stitching
  • evenness and width of cut outs
  • addition of details such as zigzag borders, lattice-work or embroidery
  • general artistic merit of the design and colour combination.
Authentic molas have become admired and sought after by tourists and collectors and are now found in private collections of textile art and museums around the world.

Textiles of the Kuna Indians of Panama (Shire Ethnography 1988)

Wassily Kandinsky 1866 - 1944
Kandinsky was born in Moscow in 1866; he studied economics, law and ethnography and only started painting seriously when he moved to Munich in 1896 to study art. Kandinsky was initially inspired by Monet’s dramatic use of colour in his painting ‘Haystacks’  but many influences can be seen in Kandinsky’s paintings such as pointillism, fauvism and impressionism before his work took on a more expressionist style leading to the development of his abstract painting. Kandinsky is thought to be the earliest purely abstract painter.
The outbreak of World War 1 led Kandinsky to move back to Russia but in 1922 Kandinsky returned to Germany and took up teaching at the Bauhaus having been invited by its founder Walter Gropius.
It was also during this time that geometrical forms took on more importance in Kandinsky’s painting. Following the dissolution of the Bauhaus in 1933 Kandinsky moved to Paris where he remained until his death in 1944.
As well as his painting Kandinsky was also an art theorist he had two books published - ‘Concerning the Spiritual in Art’ in 1911 and ‘Point and Line to Plane’ in 1926.

The most interesting aspect of Kandinsky’s work, for me, is the very close association he makes between art and music and the way that he so vividly portrays this in his paintings. Early in his painting career he was influenced by the music of Wagner, particularly a performance of ‘Lohengrin’ which conjured up for him a very specific time in Moscow that Kandinsky associated with certain colours and emotions. Describing the effect of this music Kandinsky states:
"The violins, the deep tones of the basses, and especially the wind instruments at that time embodied for me all the power of that pre-nocturnal hour. I saw all my colours in my mind; they stood before my eyes. Wild, almost crazy lines were sketched in front of me. I did not dare use the expression that Wagner had painted 'my hour' musically." 
Again in 1911, after hearing a performance by Arnold Schönberg, Kandinsky wrote to the composer:
In your works, you have realised what I, albeit in uncertain form, have so greatly longed for in music. The independent progress through their own destinies, the independent life of the individual voices in your compositions is exactly what I am trying to find in my paintings.
It seems natural for Kandinsky to describe art in such musical terms, it is as though he has a form of synaesthesia and is attempting to express what he sees and feels with his paintings. It seems as though Kandinsky was also trying to express this ‘condition’ in his theoretical work talking about melodic compositions and the rhythmic arrangements of elements within paintings.
The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art in Edinburgh houses a complete set of twelve prints by Kandinsky in their original portfolio. The portfolio is entitled ‘Small Worlds’ and comprises 4 colour lithographs, 4 woodcuts alternating colour and black and white and 4 drypoints. It is fascinating to see these works up close; below is an image of one of the prints in the collection that I particularly feel expresses the relationship with music that Kandinsky explains so well.

The types of line used and the placement of the various grids at different angles create the feeling of movement through and around the piece. The additional layering of coloured grids and geometric shapes give the impression of an underlying complexity, particularly where shapes overlap creating blended colours.

Great Artists (Marshall Cavendish) No. 80 Kandinsky
A Companion Guide to the Scottish National gallery of Modern Art. National Galleries of Scotland.

Henri Matisse - 1869– 1954
For the third artist I have chosen to look at Henri Matisse.
I have always found the use of colour in works by artists such as Matisse, Franz Marc and Paul Klee very appealing, especially as I have become more familiar with colour theory. The reason I have chosen to focus on Henri Matisse is that in later life he used cut paper shapes to create many of his works, this fits very nicely with work I have done in this module.  
Matisse was born in northern France in December, 1869. He studied law in Paris and subsequently took up a position in a law office. It was during a period of convalescence following an episode of appendicitis that Matisse began to paint and in 1892, having given up his law career; he went to Paris to study art formally.

Henri Matisse (1869-1954)
The Roofs of Collioure (oil on canvas, 1905)
The Hermitage, St Petersburg
Early in his painting career Matisse closely studied the work of Gauguin, Cezanne and Van Gogh developing his use of colour and form. He was further influenced by exponents of pointillist painting such as Paul Signac and Georges Seurat and the use of pure pigment to create images using fine points of colour. Matisse developed this technique further and used similar pigments but in much broader strokes creating strikingly bold pictures. It was an exhibition of some of these works that used bold colours and distorted shapes along with similar works by fellow artists, including Andre Derain & Maurice de Vlaminck, that led to this group of artists being called ‘les fauves’ (literally ‘wild beasts’).
Although the Fauvist movement did not last more than a few years Matisse continued to develop his art. He travelled widely and took great interest in African, Islamic and Moorish art. As well as painting and drawing Matisse also produced sculptures and, in 1920, he designed costumes for the Ballet Russes production of ‘Le Chant du Rossignol’ (The song of the Nightingale). 
In 1941 Matisse was diagnosed with cancer and following surgery was confined to a wheelchair. During these later years he concentrated on creating cut paper collages termed ‘gouaches découpés’. These were often on a large scale and during the process the cut shapes would be pinned lightly on the walls of his studio until he was happy with the composition then the cut shapes would be glued onto the chosen support.

PANEL WITH MASK 110 x 53 cm.
gouache and cut out paper 
I think these cut out designs are full of life, an impression created by the bold shapes combined with strong colours. The cut shapes used in many of these pictures have very curving lines that lead the eye around the image. Looking more closely at these particular works by Henri Matisse has certainly given me a greater understanding and appreciation of the cut paper exercises in this module.

Technique of the Cut Outs
With the aid of his assistants, Matisse invented a systematic approach to the technique of his cut outs. First, his studio assistants brushed Linel gouaches on sheets of white paper.
Once dry, stockpiles of coloured paper were available to Matisse at any given time. He often quite spontaneously cut out elements and placed them into compositions. As the play between consciously sought-for and the fortuitously-arrived at effects worked into their balances the projects moved toward completion. In the meantime many of them were posted about the studio walls.
Great Artists (Marshall Cavendish) No. 95 Matisse

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