Shadow Bearer

9 Mar

Bby the author of Revelation to describe the heavenly Jerusalem,

And the citie had no need of the Sunne, neither of the Moone to shine in it: for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lambe is the light thereof. And the nations of them which are saued, shall walke in the light of it: and the kings of the earth doe bring their glory and honour into it. And the gates of it shall not bee shut at all by day: for there shall bee no night there.

The same transfiguration of matter into luminosity is observable in Medieval art and Russian icons, where there are no cast shadows. Nor are there cast shadows in any of Kandinsky’s paintings from his inauguration of abstraction to the end of his career.

Cast shadow is the visual equivalent of weight. It indicates opacity and solidity, material being. The development of pure abstraction in painting does not necessarily entail the abandonment of cast shadows, though we now take this lack as a given. But it is a necessary consequence of full commitment to depicting a wholly inner reality. As in the Biblical visions cited above, in Kandinsky all has been transformed to light, a transfiguration which is no way undercut by the use of color, the addition of lines, or later still by the incorporation of geometric and finally biological forms. Shadows remain superfluous for Kandinsky, just as angels need not flap their wings to fly. Shadowlessness, like the pinions of celestial spirits, is a symbol of perfect, weightless freedom, unconstrained by three-dimensional existence. Kandinsky’s worlds are all realized in the zero-gravity of heaven.

Thus, without weight to help in placement, Kandinsky arrived at the maelstrom as a principle of composition. What holds the majority of Kandinsky’s abstract compositions together is not a structure based on symmetry and static order but on momentum. In his 1914 Cologne Lecture Kandinsky describes the physics, as it were, of his non-dimensional visual world,  his aesthetic chaos where up and down, nearer and farther, heavy and light, have ceased to exist. Non-dimensional though it is, Kandinsky’s visual world is not flat or dimensionless. He gave a new and non-realistic dimensionality to his compositions by placing his colors and shapes no only on the canvase, but seemingly at different levels in it.

The colors . . . lie as if upon one and the same plane but their inner [psychic] weights [values] are different.

Technically, this means water-color-like transparencies, thick palette-knife application, scumbling, all the possible ways of varying texture and color density, along with subtle blendings and contrasts of hue. “By this means,” Kandinsky continues,

I also avoided the element of flatness in painting, which can easily lead and has so often led to the ornamental. The difference between the inner planes [the variation in textures and color densities] gave my pictures a depth that more than compensated for [the abandonment of] earlier [realistic] perspective depth.

Kandinsky confirms that his conscious intention was to transcend material being by these techniques, in his 1926 Point and Line to Plane. In a section titled “Dematerialized surface,” he describes “the viewpoint of common materialism” as “diametrically opposed” to his own, which mandates the “floating” on the “picture plane”  of “elements having no material weight in an indefinable (nonmaterial) space.”

This same alternate-universe spatial sense, along with the weightlessness that is its basis, is even more readily evident in the shadowless, free-wheeling geometries of the Bauhaus period and the final, confetti-like biomorphic paintings he created in Paris. The inauguration of abstraction painting was far from being the sum of Kandinsky’s achievements. He created not only new forms, but devised new laws of nature in which such forms would plausibly exist. He created not a style, but a world.


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