Vasily Kandinsky: My Favorite Synesthete
Vasily Kandinsky (1866-1944) was a Russian-born painter known for his use of vibrant color and abstract techniques. In general, abstract art has never really spoken me, that is until I first saw Kandinsky years ago at the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg. His colors seemed to dance across the canvas in weird and wonderful ways that were at once sensual and chaotic. In that moment, I got it, or rather, I got something. Stripped of any recognizable form, all that’s left is how the work makes you feel…significant considering that Kandinsky probably had synesthesia.
Synesthesia is a neurological condition where the stimulation of one sense leads to a secondary sensory experience. In other words, some people hear color or see sound. An example of a famous synesthete is the writer Vladimir Nabokov. As a child he told his mother that different letters radiated colors, and though his mother agreed with him, they couldn’t settle on which colors. Kanye West claims that he’s a synesthete. Perhaps that’s the inspiration behind his leather jogging pants?
Knowing that Kandinsky employed synesthesiac techniques certainly influences my interpretation of his art. Many of his paintings are based on a relationship between color and music. Kandinsky explained that “color is a means of exerting direct influence upon the soul. Color is a keyboard. The eye is the hammer. The soul is the piano, with its many strings.”
The Neue Gallery hosted a boutique exhibition back in February “Vasily Kandinsky: From Blaue Reiter to the Bauhaus, 1910-1925“ which centered on his move from expressionism to pure abstraction. Among my favorite works exhibited there were four panels commissioned by Edwin R. Campbell titled “The Seasons.” The paintings measure over five feet high and are of varying widths. If you have the chance, take a moment to sit with them together to let their colors wash over you.
While the Neue Gallery exhibition is over, there are a number of opportunities to see Kandinsky’s work in New York City. “The Seasons” panels are part of MOMA’s permanent collection, and “Kandinsky in Paris, 1934-1944“ will be at the Guggenheim until April 23. Check it out!