Sonia Delaunay – a life in colour

Abstract art is only important if it is the endless rhythm
where the very ancient
and the distant future meet.”
Sonia Delaunay, 1978

Yellow Nude (detail) by Sonia Delaunay (1908)

Yellow Nude (detail) by Sonia Delaunay (1908)

patchwork cover for her son's cradle by Sonia Delaunay (1911)

patchwork cover for her son’s cradle by Sonia Delaunay (1911)

If Sonia Delaunay would have lived now, she would have been an extremely successful entrepreneur, artist and polyglot. And that’s exactly what she was in the early 1900’s in Paris! Sonia Delaunay (1885-1979) was a pioneer of abstraction who spent a lifetime experimenting with colour in her search for pure painting. She brought painting and the art of colour into the everyday life – through fashion, theatre, textiles, tapestry, fabric design, mosaics, furniture, interior design, books, typography, drawing and painting. No wonder that her retrospective exhibition, which i saw in Paris (Musée d’art Moderne – moving to Tate Modern by 15 April 2015), is a whirlwind of artistic expression. The curators did a great job in showcasing not only an overview of her tremendous output but as a visitor you also get a really good sense of who she was and were she came from.

Simultaneous Solar Prism by Sonia Delaunay (1914)

Simultaneous Solar Prism by Sonia Delaunay (1914)

Sonia Delaunay was born as Sonia Terk in Odessa (Ukrain) but spends most of her childhood with a wealthy uncle in St Petersburg. At the age of 18 she left to study painting in Germany before settling in Paris where she spent most of her life, apart from significant periods in Spain and Portugal to escape the war.

Sonia Delaunay with her students in her studio, rue Saint-Simon, Paris (1936)

Sonia Delaunay (standing) with her students in her studio, rue Saint-Simon, Paris (1936)

‘As they wake up, the Delaunays speak painting,’ commented Guillaume Apollinaire, who had stayed at their apartment-studio in the Rue des Grads-Augustins in 1912. With her husband, the artist Robert Delaunay, she opened their home on Sunday afternoons to artists, poets, writers and musicians. Sonia Delaunay engaged with the ideas from both the French and Russian avant-gardes and in doing so managed a creative fusion that marked her work as unique.

While the Delaunay’s invented a new pictorial language together (Simultanism), Sonia developed it in an original way and applied it to everyday life without distinguishing between fine and applied arts. A remarkable artist to be discovered in a remarkable exhibition.

Rhythm, mural painting for the 15th Salon des Tuileries by Sonia Delaunay (1938)

Rhythm, mural painting for the 15th Salon des Tuileries by Sonia Delaunay (1938)

textile designs by Sonia Delaunay (1934-35)

textile designs by Sonia Delaunay (1934-35)

Sonia Delaunay and Sophie Taeuber-Arp in Simultaneous bathing suits, on the beach at Carnac (FR-1929) and beach set designed by Sonia Delaunay (1928)

Sonia Delaunay and Sophie Taeuber-Arp in Simultaneous bathing suits, on the beach at Carnac (FR-1929) and beach set designed by Sonia Delaunay (1928)

All pictures and everything you ever wanted to know about Sonia Delaunay can be found in the well researched catalogue ‘Sonia Delaunay’, 2014 accompanying the exhibition.

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Untitled (prints by Peter Doig)

Grande rivière II by Peter Doig, 2002. Aquatint with drypoint, plate 36,8 x 24,1cm.

Grande rivière II by Peter Doig, 2002. Aquatint with drypoint, plate 36,8 x 24,1cm.

Peter Doig (°1959) is probably best known for his timeless, exotic landscape paintings, inspired by his own itinerant lifestyle. Born in Edinburgh, Doig lived in Trinidad, London, and Canada in his youth and studied painting in London. The artist now has a studio in Trinidad and New York, and also teaches painting at the School of Art in Düsseldorf, Germany.
His work is currently on show in Fondation Beyeler (Switserland) and will move later to Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Denmark. For the first time he is showing some of his largely experimental prints. From the excellent catalogue I learn that making prints is not just a by-product of Doig’s art but can also be integral to his work process. The finished paintings we see are often the result of the development of an image that was first made as a print.

Grande Rivière by Peter Doig, 2001-02. Oil on canvas, 228 x 358 cm.

Grande Rivière by Peter Doig, 2001-02. Oil on canvas, 228 x 358 cm.

The first print shown above informed the painting ‘Grande Rivière’. It’s based on a photograph the artist took himself. In the catalogue he explains: “I was just attracted to this odd palm… I mean apart from the atmosphere… this bizarre sort of tree that seemed to be hanging in space, almost horizontally. That’s what’s great about print-making, a state can change the whole atmosphere.”

Untitled (Daytime astronomy) by Peter Doig, 1997. Etching with aquatint, working proof, plate 20 x 30 cm.

Untitled (Daytime astronomy) by Peter Doig, 1997. Etching with aquatint, working proof, plate 20 x 30 cm.

About ‘Daytime astronomy’ he recalls that the farm is somewhere close to the Quebec border with Ontario. “I used to take pictures whilst driving. I liked the plain and the emptiness and the somewhat generic buildings. The figure is based on a photograph of Jackson Pollock – a great photograph of a man lying on his back staring at the sky… He is rooted to the ground but seems to be elsewhere in his head.”

Untitled (Blotter) by Peter Doig, 1996. Etching, plate 29 x 19,6 cm.

Untitled (Blotter) by Peter Doig, 1996. Etching, plate 29 x 19,6 cm.

Blotter by Peter Doig, 1993. Oil on canvas, 249 x 199 cm.

Blotter by Peter Doig, 1993. Oil on canvas, 249 x 199 cm.

On the relation between the absurd and the serious in his works he refers to ‘Blotter’. “This guy standing and looking at his feet, I mean is this a valid subject for a painting?When i was working on this image I looked at Courbet’s ‘Hunters in the Snow’ (below). The thing I love about the hunters is their ordinariness, the way they’re wearing modern clothing. It relies quite directly on things like the silhouettes of the figures against the white of the snow.”

Hunters in the snow by Gustave Courbet, 1867. Oil on canvas, 102 x 122 cm.

Hunters in the snow by Gustave Courbet, 1867. Oil on canvas, 102 x 122 cm.

‘Blotter’ is actually one of the few paintings I have staged. When I was in Canada for Christmas 1993, I staged this composition with the idea of making a painting with a realistic image of reflection.It’s a portrait of my brother, at the time he must have been around 28 years old.

Untitled (Dark Owl) by Peter Doig, 2013. Etching with aquatint, plate 35,2 x 25 cm.

Untitled (Dark Owl) by Peter Doig, 2013. Etching with aquatint, plate 35,2 x 25 cm.

Jetty by Peter Doig, 1996. Etching with aquatint, edition of 10, plate 20,4 x 15 cm.

Jetty by Peter Doig, 1996. Etching with aquatint, edition of 10, plate 20,4 x 15 cm.

Corbeaux by Peter Doig, 2013. Etching with aquatint, plate 24,8 x 34,9 cm.

Corbeaux by Peter Doig, 2013. Etching with aquatint, plate 24,8 x 34,9 cm.

If you want to read more, I recommend the article ‘Every Picture tells a Story’ about Peter Doig and a recent interview with the artist in DAMn Magazine.

All pictures are from the catalogue ‘Peter Doig’, 2014, Fondation Beyeler.