Please note that the poems and essays on this site are copyright and may not be reproduced without the author's permission.

Friday, 21 December 2012

And Again to the Stars


Murnau -- Kohlgruberstrasse: Vassily Kandinsky, 1908, oil on board, 71 x  98 cm; image by Adrian Daniel Popescu, 9 September 2012 (Collection Merzbacher/Fondation Giannada, Martigny, Canton de Valais)

A kiss on the glove
At four blows
During lunch I dreamed of mud
But the neck of the waiter
A pink over the blue of the mud
Around your shoes
Was a something
A token I carried
To remember this love was like plastic.

Berglandschaft mit Dorf (Mountain Landscape with Village): Vassily Kandinsky, c. 1908, oil on board; image by Adrian Daniel Popescu, 9 September 2012 (Collection Merzbacher/Fondation Gianadda, Martigny, Canton de Valais)


Hazen said...

It was a debate of sorts: to meet the end of the world in bed, take it lying down so to speak, or not. But no, one should be bright eyed and alert and vertical when facing annihilation and all that. So I got up and made coffee. The wind was blowing damned hard. The world was frozen. The bird feeder rocked wildly. Kandinsky showed up with a couple of paintings, vivid of hue and right side up as yet, the picture still representing the thing quite beautifully. Then he went for a walk (I warned him) and when he returned the world, his world at least, was upside down. It meant something else. It was never the same after that. The End.

TC said...

Now there's a coincidence: same debate here. Swirling winds, vast comma-shaped storm just offshore, uncoiling its tail to sting with fury at first light. So I got up and made coffee. The wind was blowing harder. The rusty wind chimes in the ancient bent plum tree were rattling apprehensively. Will this be the blast that finally blows us down for good and all?

"No," said Kandinsky. "Stop being so subjective, old fool. The elements were not contrived with you in mind. Get up and read on in the chapter about Herr Freud's views of Americans."

"My suspicion of America is unconquerable," submitted Sigmund then. "I fear the prudery of the new continent. Americans have no time for libido. Their existence is marked by haste. I call their republic 'Dollaria'. This race is destined to extinction. They can no longer open their mouths to speak, soon they won't be able to do so to eat. And what is the American without prosperity?"

"Well, look at it another way; they pay top dollar for my work, right side up or not -- can they even tell the difference? -- now that I am long since dead and gone," responded Kandinsky.

"See what I mean?" Freud responded. "It is the death drive. But hold on tight to that wheel. It's dark ahead, and this road may be leading us over a cliff."



Thanks for this poem on the solstice -- 12.21.12, wind driving from the south, rain now pounding -- and these early Kandinsky's (for whom some "pay top dollar," and some of which we can see in Guggenheim or MOMA (if we can get to New York), though not these, these early ones, what a sense of color. . .


grey rain cloud against top of shadowed
green ridge, motion of leaves on branch
in foreground, sound of wave in channel

describe for the first time,
continue to represent

the visible form, substance
oblique, contained by

clouds reflected in windblown channel,
wingspan of pelican gliding across it

TC said...

Steve. Ditto here. The big old trees are bending, the rain it raineth hard, the drainspouts runneth over.

We can't get to New York or the Guggenheim ever again (why am I not sorry), but these secret masterpieces are here for us now in this moment, lit up from behind the screen as if by a strange magic Kandinsky might well have wondered at.

The Murnau work done in 1908-1910 remains his strongest, for me.

The two paintings posted here are great, little-known examples.

Another, somewhat better known while equally representative, would be:

Houses in Murnau, 1908

And some excerpts from a work I've long found extremely interesting:

Kandinsky: from Concerning the Spiritual in Art (1911)

The starting point is the study of colour and its effects on men.


Two great divisions of colour occur to the mind at the outset: into warm and cold, and into light and dark. To each colour there are therefore four shades of appeal--warm and light or warm and dark, or cold and light or cold and dark.

Generally speaking, warmth or cold in a colour means an approach respectively to yellow or to blue. This distinction is, so to speak, on one basis, the colour having a constant fundamental appeal, but assuming either a more material or more non-material quality. The movement is an horizontal one, the warm colours approaching the spectator, the cold ones retreating from him.

The colours, which cause in another colour this horizontal movement, while they are themselves affected by it, have another movement of their own, which acts with a violent separative force.


Yellow and blue have... an ex-and concentric movement. If two circles are drawn and painted respectively yellow and blue, brief concentration will reveal in the yellow a spreading movement out from the centre, and a noticeable approach to the spectator. The blue, on the other hand, moves in upon itself, like a snail retreating into its shell, and draws away from the spectator.


The first movement of yellow, that of approach to the spectator (which can be increased by an intensification of the yellow), and also the second movement, that of over-spreading the boundaries, have a material parallel in the human energy which assails every obstacle blindly, and bursts forth aimlessly in every direction.

Yellow, if steadily gazed at in any geometrical form, has a disturbing influence, and reveals in the colour an insistent, aggressive character. unvaried by vibration or dampers, etc.

Yellow is the typically earthly colour. It can never have profound meaning. An intermixture of blue makes it a sickly colour. It may be paralleled in human nature, with madness, not with melancholy or hypochondriacal mania, but rather with violent raving lunacy.

The power of profound meaning is found in blue, and first in its physical movements (1) of retreat from the spectator, (2) of turning in upon its own centre. The inclination of blue to depth is so strong that its inner appeal is stronger when its shade is deeper.

Blue is the typical heavenly colour.

The ultimate feeling it creates is one of rest.


A well-balanced mixture of blue and yellow produces green. The horizontal movement ceases; likewise that from and towards the centre. The effect on the soul through the eye is therefore motionless. This is a fact recognized not only by opticians but by the world. Green is the most restful colour that exists. On exhausted men this restfulness has a beneficial effect, but after a time it becomes wearisome.

Pictures painted in shades of green are passive and tend to be wearisome; this contrasts with the active warmth of yellow or the active coolness of blue. In the hierarchy of colours green is the "bourgeoisie"-self-satisfied, immovable, narrow. It is the colour of summer, the period when nature is resting from the storms of winter and the productive energy of spring.


TC said...


The unbounded warmth of red has not the irresponsible appeal of yellow, but rings inwardly with a determined and powerful intensity. It glows in itself, maturely, and does not distribute its vigour aimlessly.

The varied powers of red are very striking. By a skillful use of it in its different shades, its fundamental tone may be made warm or cold.

Light warm red has a certain similarity to medium yellow, alike in texture and appeal, and gives a feeling of strength, vigour, determination, triumph. In music, it is a sound of trumpets, strong, harsh, and ringing.

Vermilion is a red with a feeling of sharpness, like glowing steel which can be cooled by water. Vermilion is quenched by blue, for it can support no mixture with a cold colour. More accurately speaking, such a mixture produces what is called a dirty colour, scorned by painters of today.

But "dirt" as a material object has its own inner appeal, and therefore to avoid it in painting, is as unjust and narrow as was the cry of yesterday for pure colour. At the call of the inner need that which is outwardly foul may be inwardly pure, and vice versa.

The two shades of red just discussed are similar to yellow, except that they reach out less to the spectator. The glow of red is within itself. For this reason it is a colour more beloved than yellow, being frequently used in primitive and traditional decoration, and also in peasant costumes, because in the open air the harmony of red and green is very beautiful.

Taken by itself this red is material, and, like yellow, has no very deep appeal.

Only when combined with something nobler does it acquire this deep appeal. It is dangerous to seek to deepen red by an admixture of black, for black quenches the glow, or at least reduces it considerably.


Cool red (madder) like any other fundamentally cold colour, can be deepened--especially by an intermixture of azure. The character of the colour changes; the inward glow increases, the active element gradually disappears.

But this active element is never so wholly absent as in deep green. There always remains a hint of renewed vigour, somewhere out of sight, waiting for a certain moment to burst forth afresh. In this lies the great difference between a deepened red and a deepened blue, because in red there is always a trace of the material.

A parallel in music are the sad, middle tones of a cello. A cold, light red contains a very distinct bodily or material element, but it is always pure, like the fresh beauty of the face of a young girl. The singing notes of a violin express this exactly in music.

Warm red, intensified by a suitable yellow, is orange. This blend brings red almost to the point of spreading out towards the spectator. But the element of red is always sufficiently strong to keep the colour from flippancy. Orange is like a man, convinced of his own powers. Its note is that of the angelus, or of an old violin.

Just as orange is red brought nearer to humanity by yellow, so violet is red withdrawn from humanity by blue. But the red in violet must be cold, for the spiritual need does not allow of a mixture of warm red with cold blue.

Violet is therefore both in the physical and spiritual sense a cooled red. It is consequently rather sad and ailing. It is worn by old women, and in China as a sign of mourning. In music it is an English horn, or the deep notes of wood instruments (e.g. a bassoon).

vazambam (Vassilis Zambaras) said...

First the poem and then my namesake Vassily's dissection of colours--wow--especially "blue, like a snail retreating into its shell".

Thanks, Tom.

TC said...


Your namesake's great inklings re. the synesthesia of colour never cease to engage the imagination.

(Teeming rain here these last few days/weeks -- feeling blue like that withdrawn snail...)

And apologies to our good friend Hazen, who tips us that the greedy brainless monster Blogger ate a comment he put up yesterday:

"Professor Freud hits the mark in his comment about the republic of Dolaria, where we discover that ‘more bang for the buck’ has meanings varied and sinister, and ‘death drive’ isn’t just some suburban roadway. A bit more coffee to warm the bones? It’s Mayan . . . and organic."

Sooo... back to the coffee, then.



Thanks for all this Kandinsky -- his Selected Writings (which contains "Concerning the Spiritual in Art" along with many other works) has long been one of my 'most read' books.

Mose23 said...

But the neck of the waiter
A pink over the blue of the mud.

How colour happens in writing is fascinating in itself; that relations in colour can become "...a something."

TC said...

Thank you, WB, for seeing why I picked the Kandinskys. Pulsating with that primary colour, the expressiveness of it, the emotional relations "created" by the planar adjacencies.

Latterly my eyes can't take much light, and in any case currently there isn't much available -- so I'm conscious, looking again at this poem, of how much more colourful the world once looked to me. Not to suggest a "rose coloured glasses" nostalgia, more like an immediacy and acuteness in the presentation of the sensory world.

The poem was writ in what would after all not be thought of a one of the world's most colourful places -- that is, the vicinity of London Bridge -- nearly fifty years ago now. I had been reading some of Kandinsky's writings on colour. I remember him saying somewhere that he had turned away from the expressionist use of colour (as seen in works like the ones here) because he wanted to make pieces that would create the same emotional affect when viewed in different lights. He said he wanted to make works that looked the same when he walked into his flat in the late afternoon or evening as they had looked in the morning. The more rigorous later compositions would reflect this purging of colour-affect. (Regrettably.)