Progression of Art
The Beginning of Life
This etching, executed a few years after his arrival in Paris, shows the influence of Symbolism on Kupka. Dominating the scene is a floating fetus enclosed in a circle. It is attached through an umbilical cord to a radiating womb which blooms from a lotus flower. In the picture Kupka draws heavily on religious imagery, especially that of Buddhism and Theosophy (a belief system which combined religion, science and philosophy) to represent overarching ideas of birth, life, and renewal. Kupka utilized ideas from numerous sources in his art and had a long-standing interest in mystical and spiritual concepts.
The lotus flower is an important symbol of creation, femininity, and sexual union and is depicted here as the origin of life itself. This was not the first time that Kupka had imbued the Lotus with these qualities and similar imagery can be seen in his earlier painting The Soul of the Lotus (1898). The circles reference the widespread and historical practice of utilizing halos to denote religious figures. Here, they are employed to delineate sacred space, highlighting both the womb and the fetus as holy. In both Buddhism and Theosophy the circle also represents the eternal, symbolizing the infinite universe and the life within it. The interconnected elements in the process of creation stand out against the more muted tones and repetitive shapes of the background and there is a sense of movement and light upwards from the lotus flower to the fetus via the sun-like womb. This emphasizes the importance of birth and growth and the role played by women within this.
Colored etching on paper - Centre Pompidou, Musée National d'Art Moderne, Paris.
Planes by Colors, Large Nude
This is a nude of Kupka's wife and muse, Eugenie, reclining on a sofa. Although the subject matter is quite academic, the artist uses unrealistic colors to model the flesh and face, dividing the figure into several tonal planes. Kupka believed in the existence of an unseen dimension of meaning hidden beneath the purely visual and he attempted to capture this in his art, revealing the model's 'inner form' through his use of color. This aim was supported by the invention of radiography around 1895 which confirmed Kupka's ideas relating to the existence of an invisible reality and encouraged him to view subjects with a painterly X-Ray vision.
The background and sofa are made of horizontal and vertical stripes of colors denying any sense of depth to the picture and this indicates the influence of Cubism on the artist. The painting also demonstrates a debt to the vibrant colors and techniques of Fauvism, particularly the work of Henri Matisse. The painting is more than an imitation of other styles, however, it is a work of experimentation and shows Kupka refining his own language of color and representation. A series of studies for the final painting display a decreasingly figurative approach to the subject and an investigation into different color palettes and arrangements.
The final piece presents a dichotomy between naturalistic detail such as the carefully proportioned figure and the shaft of sunlight highlighting the model's left leg and the less realistic elements including the color and background perspective. This lingering duality in the work is demonstrated by its title which combines the vocabulary of modernism with that of more traditional art.
Oil on canvas - Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York
Woman picking flower
During the same years Kupka was working on Planes by Colors, Large Nude he also completed a number of pastel studies experimenting with the representation of movement. Here he shows the consecutive phases of motion of a women rising from a chair and leaning forward to pick a flower as a series of silhouettes. Discussing this work a few years after its completion, Kupka wrote, "In order to give the impression of movement through the use of static agents . . . one must evoke a sequence of presences; to do so in the visual arts, one must indicate different intensities of impressions, from the least to the most easily perceptible." Kupka indicates these 'different intensities' through the use of color and thickness of application of the medium. The colors follow a chromatic progression from cool to warm as the sequence evolves and the blurring between the individual outlines suggests the path from one to the next. The blue silhouette contains the most concentrated depth of color, this acts as a central pivot around which the composition rotates designating the mid-point of the sequence of movement.
In creating this painting it is probable that Kupka was inspired by both the invention of chronophotography and the aims of the Futurists. Chronophotography was developed by Etienne-Jules Marey and Eadweard Muybridge and allowed successive phases of motion to be captured in multiple photographs which were often layered into a single image. The Futurists were also interested in the representation of movement particularly from a point of view of speed and machinery and this was highlighted in their 1909 Manifesto. Later, members of the Futurist Movement produced similarly experimental images that attempted to capture the essence of movement including Giacomo Balla's Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash (1912).
Pastel, watercolor and graphite on paper - Centre Pompidou, Musée National d'Art Moderne, Paris.
Disks of Newton
The title of this painting is a reference to the theory of color developed by Isaac Newton in the mid-17th century. The physicist was the first to discover that light from the sun was composed of the seven colors of the spectrum: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet. Here Kupka represents the sun, shown in the top right of the image as an intense red circle, breaking down into its constituent parts of light. Moving away from this focal point, the colors become cooler in tone and eventually disintegrate into black, the absence of color. Kupka was interested in cosmology and astronomy and it is possible that the two spheres in the foreground represent planets, the concentric circles indicating their paths of orbit and their own rotation.
This work is also known by the title Study for Fugue in Two Colors - the reference to a fugue (a musical compositional technique) adds a further element of meaning to the piece. As with many as his fellow artists, Kupka believed that painting and music were closely allied and that sound could be embodied by color and form, stating that "I can find something between sight and hearing and I can produce a fugue in colors as Bach has done in music." This image in one of a number of studies with the same name, but there is no final version known.
Oil on canvas - Centre Pompidou, Musée National d'Art Moderne, Paris
Around a point
Kupka started to produce studies for this work as early as 1911, finally producing this large oil in the years 1925-30, although he may have reworked elements of it as late as 1934. The piece can be seen as a synthesis of Kupka's ideas, interests, and beliefs about creation, cosmic symbolism, the hidden 'inner', and scientific theories of motion, light, and color. The point was an important concept for Kupka and in his book Creation in the Plastic Arts, he wrote, "The suns and the satellites, ovoid spheres, rings, nebulae and comets that populate infinite space, as astronomy describes it, all of this, to our eyes, simply represents a mass of bright points. On the other hand, other small points, observed with a microscope and that science tells us are part of an infinite multitude of molecules and atoms, even smaller points, become, to the naked eye, bodies, articulated organisms". To Kupka, the 'point' represented a double notion of infinitely big and infinitely small and such themes can be seen in this work.
The focus of the piece is a small black dot, highlighted by a beam of white light. This seems to represent the center of creation and the series of disjointed and interweaving rings which spiral out from it, the expanses of the universe, full of stars, planets and mystic forces. The colors used are subtler than many of his previous works and are dominated by blues and oranges, opposites on a color wheel, and this creates a sense of harmony within the composition. The white background gives it a light and airy appearance and this is furthered by the use of dots to fill planes instead of bands of pure color. This gives a sense of the dematerialization of solid forms, the hidden being revealed beneath the purely visual. It has been suggested that Kupka originally based the shapes of the piece around the image of a lotus flower, simplifying it into curves and spheres and this make sense within the context of the wider symbolism.
Oil on canvas - Centre Pompidou, Musée National d'Art Moderne, Paris
This is one of a series of 16 Abstractions painted by Kupka in the late 1920s and early 1930s. The first 12 were initially published in 1933 on a single page in the second issue of the Abstraction-Creation Review and all 16 were later published in 1948 in a dedicated volume. The Abstractions consist of minimalistic compositions of lines, circles, spirals and rectangles drawn in black on a pure white background. The shapes are thoughtfully arranged within the space on the canvas and each image differs significantly from the others. They are reflective of a wider move from sinuous shapes to streamlined and geometric forms as embodied by the increasing popularity of Art Deco.
In creating these, the artist aimed to purify his forms, producing radically simplified, austere images that focused on the importance of shape and line above everything else. The geometric forms in this example are all arranged vertically and of this Kupka noted in Creation in the Plastic Arts that "In the vertical there is all the majesty of the static. It contains at once the top and the bottom, combining them ... In its solemnity, the vertical is the backbone of life in space, the axis of all construction; it monumentalizes the most trivial sketch that has been squared"
Through the canvases of Abstractions Kupka sought a truth outside of pictorial representation. By breaking painting down into its constituent parts the artist does not allow the viewer to relate the shapes to their visual understanding of the world, instead they must interpret the inner meaning of them, revealing a hidden reality which will differ for each viewer as they bring their own experiences to bear on the painting. As early as 1912, Kupka wrote "The straight line represents the abstract world. It is absolute", these images represent a culmination of this belief.
Gouache - Musée National d'Art Moderne, Paris