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Kurt Schwitters

Kurt Schwitters

I have looked at a lot of this man’s work over the years. He may have been my original inspiration to do abstract collage. I was surprised to find this piece, one I cannot remember ever seeing, while rummaging through google this past week.

Initially I was just taken in by these blues. Then the drama of so much black. The pale lemony yellow as a complement to the blue… then just a touch of red to set the whole thing off. The blues and black seem to lead us is, the yellow defines a center of activity, and the red is spice. I admire his distribution of these colors, that he is juggling all their weights to get this dynamic balance rather than placing them evenly around his space.

What I admire even more, is that he has created this design almost entirely with rectangles. Straight cut edges. Solid color. It seems we always want to put some curves, some texture, into our compositions to soften this starkness. We want torn edges so that our shapes are not so severe. But he is very restrained with these solutions. Just a hint of curve and torn edge, and quietly so, using low contrast, translucent materials. The contrasts, or opposites, he emphasizes are color and value, scale, but not the character of shapes or edges. The shapes are boring, and very similar.

And yet, the choice to rotate these blocks of color is giving the piece such movement. They seem to be tumbling downward in an arc. The curves of this piece are not in the shapes but are implied through these orientation changes. They are curves of motion.

He begins in the upper left with a solid stack, bottom to top. Moving to the right, as we “read” the page, they begin to topple. I can imagine that he began with a more rectilinear composition and the rotations developed on subsequent layers when he felt it was too static. The strong diagonals that result create a much more dynamic space. Interestingly, the structure does not completely fall down—- in the middle right he reasserts his foundation, solid blocks with rectilinear alignments. It is as if the storm has passed and we are on an even keel again. Balance has been restored. There is something very reassuring as we come to the end.

These are the possibilities of abstract composition in the hands of a master. You do not need every trick in the book, just focused interactions of your elements, both deliberate and a bit haphazard as well.

Isn’t it fun? Look up this man’s work this week. And if you are feeling adventurous, try a few of these.

To an adventurous week,


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