Monday, September 29, 2014

The Noisy Paintbox by Barb Rosenstock

"I let myself go. I had little thought for house and trees, drawing colored lines and blobs on the canvas with my palette knife, making them sing just as powerfully as I knew how." Vasily Kandinsky

This historical fiction picture book, written for children, succinctly tells the story of Vasily Kandinsky, a Russian born artist who created abstract art.

Rosenstock's The Noisy Paintbox serves as a nice introduction to this innovative and very important 20th century painter. The basics of Kandinsky's early life - his interest in art and his following of his parent's expectations for him to become a lawyer are told. But Kandinsky experienced colour and music in a different way from most other people - colour produced noise and music, and music often represented colours. Kandinsky became determined paint after several life-changing experiences and his paintings changed the art world forever.

Rosenstock's vivid text works to convey the emotions and colours of Kandinsky's abstract art. "Snapping cerulean points. Crunching crimson squares. Whispering charcoal lines." evoke images in the imagination that speak of Kandinsky's abstract art. Mary Grandpre's bright artwork created using acrylic paint and paper collage enables young readers to understand just how unique Kandinsky's art was while also telling part of the story.

The back of the book has a short biography on Vasily Kandinsky and several small pictures of his artwork. There is also a list of print sources as well as online resources for further investigation.

Kandinsky was born in Moscow, Russian in 1866. His father ran a tea factory in Odessa where the family moved in 1871. Vasily grew up in a cultured home and was well educated. He studied piano and cello and even took some art lessons. However, Vasily's parents expected him to become a lawyer and that is what he did.

He attended Moscow University to study law where he eventually became an Associate Professor. Vasily married Anna Chimyakima and they moved to Tartu where he become a Professor of Law at Derpt University. However, two events were to have a profound effect on Vasily; during an exhibition of Claude Monet's Haystacks he experienced a strong emotional reaction and the same thing happened at a performance of Richard Wagner's opera, "Lohengrin".

These unusual sensory experiences in which Vasily Kandinsky experienced sounds as colours were not unusual for him; he had experienced this sort of thing as a child. It is quite likely that Vasily Kandinsky had a rare genetic condition known as synesthesia in which one sense triggers a reaction in another sense. It was these experiences that motivated Vasily to leave the law profession to become a full time artist.

Arab city  1905
Vasily left Russia and traveled to Munich, Germany where he first studied with Anton Azbe and later with Franz Stuck. In 1903, he divorced his wife and spent the next five years traveling with his companion, Gabriela Munter.

At first Kandinsky's paintings were exquisite, colourful landscapes such as Arab City or Forest Landscape with Red Figure, reminiscent of Impressionism, Post-Impressionism and Fauvism. Kandinsky however abandoned these styles and began painting very differently; he used bright colours, line and textures and combined these with shapes that were not recognizable. Kandinsky wanted his artwork to convey feelings through the use of colour and forms. Kandinsky is considered to have created the first piece of abstract art. His painting, Composition VII is considered his best abstract painting.

Composition VII 1913
Kandinsky was part of the Neue Kunstlervereinigung Munchen (Munich New Artists' Association) but left the group in 191l and participated in the Blaue Reiter's exhibition. From 1914 to 1921, Kandinsky lived in Moscow, marrying the daughter of a Russian General and where he was involved in teaching and developing art museums.

But he fell out of favour with the Socialist government, eventually leaving the Soviet Union and returning to Germany where he became involved in the Bauhaus movement. The Bauhaus was closed by the Nazi's in 1933 and Kandinsky left for France. In the 1937 purge of "degenerate art", fifty-seven of Kandinsky's painting were burned by the Nazis.

For further information on Vasily Kandinsky please check out Wassily Kandinsky Biography, Paintings, and Quotes and Kandinsky.

For more information on people who have synesthesia and this interesting genetic condition check out the PBS website.

Book Details:
The Noisy Paint Box by Barb Rosenstock
New York: Alfred A. Knopf        2014

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