Situation 3 – From Shape to Composition
In the past 10 years, geometric art has returned to the galleries as if a new era of its supremacy had occurred. The art market responds very clearly to the desire of the audience to accept art via geometric abstraction. But at the heart of this is not just the market: some of the most prestigious museums and galleries have exhibited many remarkable exhibitions like the great retrospective of Kazimir Malevich at the Tate Modern, the exhibition Adventures of the Black Square at the Whitechapel Gallery, London, Larry Bell’s solo show at Hauser & Wirth and Frank Stella’s show at the Whitney Museum in New York.
An interesting feature is that street artists are the most active group operating with geometric abstraction these days. In this way, they consciously work for the democratization of this art by bringing it into the non-elitist setting of public accessibility. Such examples are clearly visible in the works by Maya Hayuk, Augustine Kofie, Jan Kalab or Alexey Luka (Alexey Luchko).
Paradoxically, the geometric compositions (with all their abstraction) seem to represent the art that most successfully works for the concept of “art for everybody”.
My current project deals precisely with this issue by exploring specific historical examples – various modular compositions from the 1970s and 1980s that were made by artists working in the intersection between applied arts, architecture and design. The repetition of elements, mostly geometrical ones, plays an important role. The examples presented here use the elements of repetition and the possibilities of different combinations. The colours were chosen deliberately.
The interplay between the above-mentioned disciplines was part of a vast project for bringing more aesthetical and artistic values to the urban space, not only within representative buildings but also into residential complexes.
In my opinion, this process was based on the tradition left by the so-called constructivists and their general approach towards art, architecture and everyday life. In a way, it could be also regarded as an attempt at democratisation and appropriation of, let’s say, more international tendencies of late-modernism in Bulgaria. Back in the 1980s in socialist Bulgaria, the field of geometricism and abstraction was occupied by artists working in the applied arts – ceramics, textile, woodcarving, etc. Since it also had a “decorative” function, this type of practice was mostly not included in or acknowledged as a (sub)genre of the field of the fine arts. Learning about shapes and their relation to colours in the academic art education was an auxiliary tool; abstract compositions were made during the course of learning how to create your own shapes and also for a better understanding of the most complex object – the human body.
Composition and colour knowledge were two fundamental subjects for burgeoning applied artists and designers. Their basic tasks consisted of creating simple compositions of geometrical shapes by using colour gradients and the principles of colour mixing (optical and physical). Since I was trained in applied arts for a big part of my art education, I quickly found out that the guiding principles of these were function, aesthetics and style. In the time of socialist realism these three elements could be regarded as follows: ideology, function, style. In the years of the so-called ‘advanced socialism’, a certain shift occurred within the ideology – the aesthetics took a more prominent place. So the new triad could be: function, ideology/aesthetics, style.
Situation 3 presents drafts, sketches and prints that derive from modular compositions made by Bulgarian artists. During the research phase, I tried to make some parallels between these compositions and the abstract paintings of Bridget Riley from the 1960s, which are strictly constructed and based on her work with scientific information and analysis of postimpressionist painting. Her working method is based on locating the connection between the physical painting and the gaze.
The work of the artists, which I got familiar with during my research, derives from the structural analysis of shapes, materials and their function within the aesthetics of socialist modernism. So in my eyes the missing link between these two fundamentally different approaches is the ideology, which gave rise to many of the projects realised in the socialist urban space. Nevertheless, I think that certain parallels can be drawn based on the tradition that was left from the Soviet Constructivists and Bauhaus. My approach was to combine the structural elements with the value of the colours, which I chose deliberately according to the knowledge I gained during my artistic training. The compositions can be seen as single paintings but also as drafts for further development of more utilitarian objects such as wall tiles, panels, wallpapers or fabrics. In this manner, a link is established connecting abstract painting and design.
In collaboration with Boris Kostadinov
Text edit: Martin Wimmer