Vasily Kandinsky on Blue

Kandinsky reinforces the relationship of the colour blue to distance in these quotations from The Spiritual in Art (1911).

  • Blue … moves in upon itself, like a snail retreating into its shell, and draws away from the spectator.
  • The inclination of blue to depth is so strong that its inner appeal is stronger when its shade is deeper.
  • Blue is the typical heavenly colour.
  • I perceive blue as a movement of detachment from man, from the human, a movement that draws us toward the centre of this colour but also towards the infinite, awakening in us a desire for the pure and, finally, for the supernatural.

Distant Blue

In painting, aerial perspective employs the colour blue to signify far distance; using it to reinforce the structural rigging of Cartesian perspective, in which the distance between us, the viewer, and objects depicted is fixed. We are conceived as detached, analytical observers of what is before us.

This structure is upended in phenomenological analysis, in which the idea of the space between the viewer and the thing being observed is rethought, rather than detached observers we in the world with things. What is logically far away is made closer when we observe it. 

Martin Heidegger called this Entfurnung, which in the Macquarrie and Robinson translation of Being and Time is rendered as “deseverance” – a word that can be defined as “the opposite of being cut off from.” For Heidegger it is a condition of the spatiality of our dasein that we experience things, which are objectively at a distance from us, as close by, as being with us, the moment we engage with them.

Tinzen Blue

Some background information on my painting for The Horizontal Within, The Horizontal Without, an exhibition inspired by Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain.
© E. L. Kirchner

“I dream of a Tinzen picture at sunset, just the mountain, blue against blue, very simple.”

Between 1915 and 1917, the expressionist painter E. L. Kirchner spent time in various sanitaria, where he was treated for “lung affliction and weakness,” the physical expression of an inward agitation brought on by his experience of the war.

One of the places where Kirchner was treated was located in Davos, the site of the sanatorium in The Magic Mountain. The above quotation, taken from Kirchner’s diary from the period, refers to the Tinzenhorn, a mountain that was the subject of many of his paintings and photographs, and one of a number of alpine features which are pointed out to Hans Castorp, the main protagonist of The Magic Mountain, when he first arrives at the International Sanatorium Berghof:

“And over there, to the right of the Schwarzhorn, on that jagged peak there, is a glacier for you – can you still see the blue? It’s not that big, but it’s a textbook glacier, the Scaletta Glacier. And there’s Piz Michel and Tinzenhorn in that gap.” (MM, 9)

Common to both accounts is the colour blue, a property repeated in Mann’s authorial description of the Berghof’s alpine environment; “the mountains in the more distant background, where the valley tapered to an end, were a sober slate blue.” (MM, 9) All these are referenced in my painting Tinzen Blue, currently being made for The Horizontal Within, The Horizontal Without. A six foot by one foot work, based upon the above photograph that Kirchner took, in 1919, of the alpine peaks from his home on the Stafelalp, looking south towards the Tinzenhorn.

The Horizontal Within, The Horizontal Without

Curated by Stephen Lee and Peter Suchin

Ian Bourn | Louise Bristow | Maria Chevska | Richard Grayson
Derek Hampson | Liane Lang | Stephen Lee | Claudia Sarnthein | Peter Suchin

Private View: Friday 13 January, 6-9pm
Exhibition Continues: 14 January – 5 February 2017

Talk: Sunday 5th February 2017, 2pm

More information

26 Lower Clapton Rd (at the junction of Urswick Rd)
E5 0PD