The Artist Who Heard Color
Wassily Kandinsky was born in Moscow, on December 4th, 1866. His parents both played piano, so he was encouraged to learn how to read and play music at an early age. Young Kandinsky played cello and piano, and even though we know him best as a painter, music has always been the main inspiration behind his work. When he was only 5 years old,, his parents divorced, so he moved in with his aunt in Odessa, continuing to play music, and learning to paint; but the gifted young man did not choose to study art or music when he later enrolled at Moscow University, choosing instead the “safer” fields of Economics, Politics, and Law. During his years at the university, Kandinsky explore spirituality through writing. He also taught at the Moscow Faculty of Law. For Kandinsky, the arts were no more than a hobby.
It wasn’t until 1896 that Kandinsky decided to seriously study art. The sudden change in his life had been triggered by his interest in the work of Monet, an artist who’s work has had a profound impact on many others. Kandinsky was fascinated by the impressionist artist’s style, as he had never before seen paintings which weren’t meant to perfectly imitate reality. Kandinsky studied in Munich, under Anton Azbé, sketching, anatomy and life drawing. He then studied under Franz von Stuck, then moved on to found and the avant-garde Phalanx exhibiting society, and write about art. His administrative skills served him well as director of the Phalanx exhibiting society, while his writings about spirituality had prepared him for his works about color theory.
Kandinsky was a synaesthete, meaning that he could see sound as color, and vice versa. His writings on color theory sometimes bordered on the mystical, as his own interpretations and visual impressions took on almost paranormal qualities. In 1906, Kandinsky settled in Paris with his mistress, and Gabriele Münter, who was also a talented art student. A year later, the two were separated, and Kandinsky suffered a nervous breakdown, and relocated to Bavaria, so he could lead a quiet life, and concentrate on his art. Kandinsky experimented with color and minimal composition, eschewing reality from his work. Like music, his paintings were renderings of emotional states, and while it is easy to feel sadness when looking at an image of a tragic scene, Kandinsky’s work would communicate the same feelings without incorporating representational elements.