Girl power!! Part-one…

https://i2.wp.com/www.shafe.co.uk/crystal/images/lshafe/Stolzl_Gunta_Gobelin_1926-7.jpgNot often enough, when reading about the Bauhaus, are you able to enjoy stories of the female influence there.  Instead you absorb tales involving names like Gropius, Itten, van der Rohe, Klee, Kandinsky, Breuer; but there were some fabulous female gems amongst all that testosterone.  My favorite was Gunta Stolzl, born Adelgunde Stolzl.  I was immediately fascinated by her weavings. Her artwork is bold in color and style as well as having a distinct function as they were used as floor coverings and furniture coverings. Gunta Stolzl truly embodied what Walter Gropius stated in his Bauhaus manifesto in 1919. The manifesto is a call to arms to the creative people to once again return to their sense of “craft” in producing art. Walter Gropius proclaims in his manifesto “The artist is an exalted craftsman. By the grace of Heaven and in rare moments of inspiration which transcend the will, art may unconsciously blossom from the labour of his hand, but a base in handicrafts is essential to every artist. It is there that the original source of creativity lies.” Gropius also declares the decorating of a building was “once the noblest function of fine art”.

It was in learning more about Gunta Stolzl that I came to admire her strength and tenacity as an artist and as a woman. She reminded me of my maternal grandmother who was not on the same path as Gunta, however embodied Gunta’s sense of capability in a time when women were certainly not looked upon as equals. Gunta Stolzl was born in 1897 to a father who was a liberal-minded teacher. She would keep journals of philosophical readings as well as discussions on novels. She would graduate at age 16 from a high school for professional men’s daughters. During that time her father realizes her artistic talents and pushes her to study at Kunstgewerbeschule (School of Arts and Crafts) in Munich. There she studies painting, ceramics, and art history while compiling hundreds of sketches. After 3 years there she suspends her education to volunteer as a Red Cross nursing assistant in the war during the years 1917-1918. She stays until the end of the war and continues her journaling and sketching.

In 1919 Gunta returns to the School of Arts and Crafts in Munich and engages in a student’s curriculum reform organization where she became familiar with Walter Gropius’ Bauhaus manifesto. After reading this document Gunta is drawn to Weimar and enrolls for the autumn session at Bauhaus. In her journals that she kept while there she writes favorably about the ease of communication felt between the students and the teaching staff, which she is enjoying very much. Gunta’s diary during this time also contains a historically valuable recounting of Johannes Itten’s instructional approach while at Bauhaus.

Another strong influence for Gunta, and there were many, was social reform ideas that made their impact on Gunta as well as many Bauhaus members. The most influential ideas came from the Wandervogel movement. The Wandervogel movement was a German Youth Group (functioning much like the English scouts) who was interested in getting away from restrictive societies and moving towards the altruistic lifestyles, which existed in nature and freedom. I believe this movement was influential on those who embraced Bauhaus philosophies as it provided intense camaraderie and closer relations.

Gunta was at the Bauhaus for 12 years total, but 6 of them would be as a student where she studied under Wassily Kandinsky, Johannes Itten, and Paul Klee to name an important few. The weaving area, which Gunta would study in and later run, was from the very beginning the domain of the women at Bauhaus. It was difficult for women, especially during the Weimar years, to break free into other workshops. In order to move into another area you had to prove yourself particularly talented due to the “avoid unnecessary experiments” philosophy of the men’s desire to keep women out of the other areas. Men’s desires or not, Gunta would not go unnoticed or unrecognized for long amongst the men at Bauhaus.

Gunta Stolzl was a dynamic student and attended the very first Bauhaus class taught by Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky in 1921. The influence of these two men can be seen in her early abstract works on paper (seen at http://www.guntastolzl.org/gallery/1540942_7ocu8#74244138). It is not possible to cut and paste these drawings to receive the irrefutable impact Kandinsky and Klee made due to a lengthy approval process by Stolzl’s family who governs her image archive. Along with the imagery influence, Johannes Itten’s color philosophy also has a profound affect, which can be witnessed in her later weavings from 1923 and later. While a student, Gunta crafts two knotted carpets that are both sold during the 1923 Bauhaus exhibition at the House am Horn building.

Gunta, in 1921, collaborated with Marcel Breuer at the Bauhaus to create what I believe to be one of the most exquisite pieces to come out of the school. The “African Chair” was made of painted oak wood with weaved fabric freely designed and produced by Stolzl. After creating the fabric piece, she stretched it onto the back of the chair using holes in the framework. The African Chair had been lost for a number of years and only recently recovered in 2004 and returned to the Bauhaus Archive Museum. Prior to that the only proof of the chair’s existence was a black and white photograph of the piece. There is no concrete evidence as to the original purpose of the chair, but historical speculation runs rampant. Some of the inferences include a throne for Walter Gropius to confirm his belief that architecture was the “mother of all arts in classical architectural theory” or that perhaps the chair was a symbolic wedding chair influenced by the budding relationship between Breuer and Stolzl during that time.

Although Gunta had strong allies in Breuer, Klee, Kandinsky, and Itten it would not prove easy for her to advance her teaching status in the Bauhaus to master since she was never technically a protégée of any master.   Come back next week to see how she would fare in her future at the Bauhaus.

Bibliography:

Manifesto. Bauhaus-Archive Museum of Design. http://www.bauhaus.de/english/bauhaus1919/manifest1919.htm cited February 22, 2008.

New Acquistions: The African Chair. Bauhaus-Archive Museum of Design. http://www.bauhaus.de/english/aktuelles/neuerwerbungen.htm cited March 4, 2008.

Gunta Stolzl. Bauhaus (Red Book). Konemann (Edited by Jeannine Fiedler and Peter Feierabend), 1999. http://www.guntastolzl.org/gallery/1897708/1/95700545 cited February 13, 2008.

Biography. Gunta Stolzl – Bauhaus Master. http://www.guntastolzl.org/gallery/2222182 cited February 13, 2008.

Hans M. Wingler. The Bauhaus: Weimer Dessau Berlin Chicago. Cambridge, Massachusetts and London, England: The MIT Press, 1969.

Finding your inner child….

I was originally going to chat about Johannes Itten and my personal fascination with him, his personality, microbiotic eating habit, and his Bauhaus effect.  However in looking through some old papers, I stumbled across a picture of Paul Klee’s Red Baloon, 1922 and felt compelled to write about it. 

Paul Klee was asked to join the Bauhaus in 1920 by Walter Gropius and he would remain there for 10 years and produce over 10,000 works during his tenure as a professor.  Earlier than that he had become friends with Wassily Kandinsky and the two of them would remain as such for the remainder of their lives.  Klee was known for his impish sense of humor as well as his fascination for producing art which entailed a child-like simplistic quality.  However his work should never be construed simple or as child-like as it is completed with much forethought and with painstakingly accurate use of materials.  One child-like quality of Paul Klee was his inquisitive mind to seek out and experiment with new styles of execution for his artwork.  This inquisitiveness carried through in the various materials and techniques that would in turn drive his work.  He was a colleague of Johannes Itten who was fascinated with color and its relationships with other colors.  I believe this influenced Paul Klee and sparked Klee’s further interest in colors while he experimented with surfaces and material application techniques.  I cannot help but also feel that Klee’s friendship with Wassily Kandinsky was instrumental in the above work that I am writing about, Red Balloon from 1922.  I believe the people that he was surrounded with were very important during his creation of his painting Red Balloon which was done during the time he was teaching at Bauhaus with Itten and Kandinsky.

Paul Klee could be considered “avant garde” by today’s standards as he showed artistic evolution as well as inventiveness with his materials, often leaving the edges of his canvas and paper raw and unpainted which allowed him to add a title line as well as an inventory tracking number.  Most other artists didn’t do that at the time and were treating their works with more formality in structure.  Klee’s inventiveness would carry over to his studio space at Bauhaus which was said to resemble a kitchen, one that might belong to some alchemist.  The studio contained various bottles, paint powders, oils, easels, and one chair.  Klee often worked on many pieces at a time, explaining the numerous easels yet only one chair.  Paul Klee created works that contained multiple layers of materials and textures.  This is well observed in the painting Red Balloon where Klee actually manipulates the muslin the work is painted on. 

Previously working in the creation of lithographs Paul Klee discovered a technique to create that same type of line that he was able to achieve in lithography but instead create it with paint. This technique can be seen in his Red Balloon painting to create outlines.  To fulfill this vision of painted atmospheric lines Klee uncovers a technique called “oil transfer”.   This manual process entails painting with oil paint, which has been thinned, onto one side of a piece of paper.  Using a technique similar to tracing, he treated the prepared painted paper as if it were carbon paper.  Klee draws on the backside of the painted sheet which transfers the dark lines onto the muslin.  In some of the other pieces of work he made, you can actually see darkened areas where Klee’s hands rested on the paper while he was drawing with a stylus or perhaps a pen.  This technique creates a broken up almost chalk like line but with the medium of oil paint.  Klee would not only employ this technique with oil painting during his Bauhaus years, but would use it again in his watercolors.

Paul Klee, along with being so experimental, was very aware of the impact and significance of each mark or gesture in his work from a grain of sand added to paint, to a scratch in a paint surface, and to the gesso leeching through gauze material.  The Guggenheim, in an exhibition writing, refers to Paul Klee as a “technical innovator” with regards to his work and I wholeheartedly agree.  This innovation is what also solidifies his status of being the “avant garde” artist that I mentioned earlier.

While painting Red Balloon Klee utilized his long history of material manipulations and technique processes.  One of my favorite of Klee’s techniques is his ability to create a luminous, almost airy, quality to his work.  For this effect he chooses to use muslin on which to apply paint.  The open and fine weave of the muslin becomes easily wavy and distorted when placed onto a panel. The panel is used to provide additional durability and strength to the otherwise frail muslin fabric.  This combination of open weaved fabric and playful paint application provides Klee with the atmospheric texture that he achieved in his lithographs, but in an oil painting.  The relationship between the wavy muslin fabric weave and the straight, almost graphically designed, lines is a sophisticated yet child-like playful contrast.

The paint application is light handed but precise in placement.  This style creates an airy feeling in his work that I personally respect and enjoy.  Very often oil paint can emulate a heavier feeling because of the properties of the materials, however Klee’s light paint application on the muslin allows you to readily see the texture of the fabric and the open air holes in between the weave of the fabric, thus resulting in that feeling of atmosphere.  This visual openness of the weave is instrumental to the sense of light, almost as if the work has an aura around it and coming through it.  Compositionally the work remains playful, especially with the red balloon being placed at the top center of the picture, commanding attention to what it is proposing within the picture.  I believe the splatters of red throughout the composition lead the viewer’s eye back and forth around the picture which provides an additional sense of movement to the painting.

To the viewer the picture Red Balloon is easily interpreted, but I don’t believe it was meant not to be.  The vision of the red balloon provides me a sense of wonderment and adventure.  I do believe the picture was created to provide that sense of journey and if looked at during the period it was created, perhaps this was to be a journey out of Germany in 1922.  Since Germany was going through such awful financial hardship financing the debt for WWI, it would seem appropriate for a painting to be completed that shows an escape from all that hardship to a land that was unseen but had to be better than this one.  That type of thinking would also fall in line with that playful child-like thought behavior that Klee possessed.

I admire Paul Klee’s playful banter involved in this painting between figuration and abstraction.  I also enjoy seeing his Bauhaus influences as well, such as the graphic styling and colors from Itten and Kandinsky.  The primary goal of my artwork revolves around the exploration of materials and application techniques which has given me great appreciation for Paul Klee’s self-evolvement within his art practice.  I have not yet begun to work with lighter fabrics such as gauze or muslin as he did, but I look forward to working with them after seeing their potential effects while learning more about Paul Klee.  My previous artwork usually involved the fabric weave to be in uniform direction; however I will instead use the weave of the fabric within my work and not so much as just a structure to place it on.  I have always been conscious of adding light and airiness into my oil painting work and that was the reason why I chose to write about the painting Red Balloon because I respect what he was able to achieve with this piece.  My thoughts of contrast making a painting interesting are somewhat simpatico to Klee especially when it involves painting style with strong linear aspects.

I am looking forward to what influence Paul Klee will have on my work. With this essay he has given me many ideas surrounding material manipulation that I am eager to start on.  I believe his work resembles much of the philosophy of what the Bauhaus presented to the rest of the world.  With respect to the sensitive color usage, strong graphical linear characteristics, and the circle in contrast to the square it is not surprising that this work was created during Paul Klee’s Bauhaus years.  This is further cemented when research is done on Johannes Itten and Wassily Kandinsky whereas you cannot deny how much they all influenced each other during that time. Paul Klee may have been trying to emulate how a child creates art, but his techniques and materials are anything but child-like or naïve, which I believe adds depth and interest to this painting as well.

For more information on Paul Klee try the following references:

From Picasso to Pollock: Classics of Modern Art. Guggenheim Museum. http://www.guggenheim.org/exhibitions/past_exhibitions/picasso_to_pollock/klee.html

Hall, Douglas. Klee.  London: Phaidon Press Limited, 1998

Merrell Publishers (Edited by Stefan Frey and Josef Helfenstein). Paul Klee Rediscovered: Works from the Burgi Collection. London: Merell Publishers Limited, 2000.