Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944) and Synesthesia Inspired Abstract Paintings


oil on canvas  

framed: 45 3/8 x 50 1/8 inches (115.25 x 127.32 cm) 

For Wassily Kandinsky, music and color were inextricably tied to one another. So clear was this relationship that Kandinsky associated each note with an exact hue. He once said, “the sound of colors is so definite that it would be hard to find anyone who would express bright yellow with bass notes or dark lake with treble.”

Born in Moscow in 1866, and studied art in Munich. In 1909, after a trip to Paris during which he was introduced to the works of the Fauve artists Henri Matisse, Georges Braque, André Derain and Maurice de Vlaminck, his paintings became more highly coloured and loosely formed.

In fact, it was after having an unusually visual response to a performance of Wagner’s composition Lohengrin at the Bolshoi Theatre that he abandoned his law career to study painting at the prestigious Munich Academy of Fine Arts. He later described the life-changing experience: “I saw all my colors in spirit, before my eyes. Wild, almost crazy lines were sketched in front of me.” 

Around 1913, Kandinsky began working on paintings that came to be considered the first totally abstract works in modern art, for they made no reference to or described objects in the physical world. In 1911, along with Franz Marc and other German expressionists, Kandinsky formed Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider), a group of artists who shared a belief that art should be in the service of the spiritual and transcendent rather than describe the material world.

The neurological phenomenon Kandinsky experienced is called synesthesia (or “joined perception,” from the Greek word synmeaning “join” and aisthesis meaning “perception”). It’s a rare but real condition in which one sense, like hearing, concurrently triggers another sense, such as sight. People with synesthesia might smell something when they hear a sound, or see a shape when they eat a certain food. Kandinsky literally saw colors when he heard music, and heard music when he painted.

The artist explored these sensations in unconventional, artistic ways. Conceived for the theatre, Kandinsky created experimental performance-based expressions of synesthesia–The Yellow Sound being the most famous–which utilized original musical scores, lighting, and various media to explore prevalent color theories of the time.

Music played an important role in the development of Kandinsky’s abstract paintings. The famous Viennese composer Arnold Schönberg was one influence. Schönberg abandoned tonal and harmonic conventions in his compositions the same way that Kandinsky rejected the figure or recognizable object in favor of shapes, lines, and discordant colors in his work. He deployed color, line, shape, and texture to create a rhythmic visual experience that evoked an emotional response. Not surprisingly, Kandinsky gave many of his paintings musical titles, such as Composition or Improvisation. 

For Kandinsky, color also had the ability to put viewers in touch with their spiritual selves. He believed that yellow could disturb, while blue awakened the highest spiritual aspirations. Just a year before he painted Fragment 2 for Composition VII, Kandinsky wrote Concerning the Spiritual in Art. An important statement of Kandinsky’s theories on art’s potential to evoke psychological, physical, and emotional responses, the treatise is considered the first theoretical foundation of abstraction.

He returned to Moscow during the Revolutionary period to teach at the Moscow Academy of Fine Arts, leaving in 1921 to teach at the Bauhaus in Germany. He remained at the Bauhaus until the Nazis closed the school in 1933, this time moving to Paris where he died in 1944.

Diary of an Adventure

Harbour Town Adventures



short walk in the forest at the Garden of Eden, before walking around the East Head rocks on a stunning morning. 

Kirsten suggested that I look at the work of Elaine de Kooning. Particularly, her portrait work, which was opportune as I started work on a portrait of Sinni, one of the homeless guys we pass on our way for our morning cappuccino.

His hat, reminiscent of Van Gogh’s 1887 self portrait. However, it’s his piercing eyes that set him apart from his fellow homeless. William (not Prince William, he insists), Trompie, Chris and Tanya. All happy to have their photos taken.

I wanted to convey his transparentness. Part of our everyday lives. Yet not there at all. The hat, more attention grabbing than him as a person.

Sinni lives in a small boat and feeds his pigeons each morning. He was saved from drowning a couple of weeks ago, after falling into the lagoon while washing the adventure boats. A kindness shown to him by giving him a job, that could have had fatal consequences. Hands lacerated by the barnacles as he desperately tried to get onto the jetty.

Yet, still transparent. The homeless we don’t see.

“A portrait of myself, almost colourless, in ashen tones against a background of pale veronese green”
Van Gogh, letter to his brother Theo, dated September 16, 1888

‘Patterns’, an abstract work of the sea looking down from the cliffs of East Head. Done as a study for a larger canvas I have. Not sure I will be able to replicate it given that I have no idea what I was doing. Indian yellow, with Turquoise Blue, Phthalo Green and Cobalt Teal rubbed into each other. A spot of Transparent Gold Ochre and Primary Magenta for the patterns. As it was looking a tad bland, I used thick ridges of Phthalo Green and Cobalt Teal. 

First paintings of the New Year sold from the studio. The sales have highlighted how poorly prepared I am for the parceling of sold paintings. I know that a dedicated wrapping station is advocated for a studio, however, my muddling through isn’t good enough. Correct sized protection sheets. Wrapping for air transport. Carry bags. Branding. I also need to get a news letter written and my email list sorted.

The air still. Holding its breath. Cowered by the heat. Gentle lapping of waves on the low tide, estuary beach.

Messing About with Paint


An abstract work of the sea looking down from the cliffs of East Head. Done as a study for a larger canvas I have.

Not sure I will be able to replicate it given that I have no idea what I was doing.

Indian yellow, with Turquoise Blue, Phthalo Green and Cobalt Teal rubbed into each other. A spot of Transparent Gold Ochre and Primary Magenta for the patterns.

As it was looking a tad bland, I used thick ridges of Phthalo Green and Cobalt Teal.



Niagara Falls 1893-1894
Oil on Canvas 51cmx40cm

In the manner of the French master Claude Monet (1840–1926), Twachtman painted at least fourteen versions of Niagara at different times of the day, recording subtle nuances of light and providing some of the rocky structure of the falls to anchor the viewer on firm land. 

Twachtman’s technique is bold and confident, moving remarkably toward abstraction while remaining true to capturing the appearance of this natural wonder. 

Born in Cincinnati, John Henry Twachtman worked as a decorator of window shades, as had his father. At the same time he took night classes at the Ohio Mechanics Institute and then enrolled at the McMicken School of Design (which later became the Art Academy of Cincinnati), where Twachtman studied with Frank Duveneck. Duveneck was a recognized painter who had recently returned from Munich, and he urged Twachtman to go to Munich to attend the Royal Academy of Fine Arts. In 1875 Twachtman went to Munich, and during his European stay he accompanied Duveneck and his fellow Munich colleague, William M. Chase, on a painting trip to Venice. Returning to the United States in 1878, Twachtman exhibited with the newly formed Society of American Artists in New York; he was elected a member the following year. In 1879 Twachtman met and began a lifelong friendship with J. Alden Weir. In 1881, he made a wedding trip to Europe, joining Weir and his brother John on a painting expedition to Holland and Belgium.

Between 1883 and 1885 Twachtman studied, traveled, and worked in France, meeting other American Impressionists Childe Hassam, Willard Metcalf, and Theodore Robinson in Paris. In 1889 Twachtman began teaching at the Art Students League, and, with the profits from a cyclorama he had painted with Arthur B. Davies in Chicago, he purchased a home in Connecticut near Weir’s farm.

Twachtman’s naturalism combines the earth tones and the fluid brushwork of Duveneck and the Munich school, the muted harmonies and abstract patterning of Whistler, and, the atmospheric effects of Claude Monet. Writing in A Collection in the Making, Duncan Phillips noted that “Twachtman’s was perhaps the finest sensibility in American art.”

Among his many awards, Twachtman received a silver medal at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893, and a gold medal at the 1894 Buffalo Academy of Fine Arts annual exhibition. In 1897 he and Weir withdrew from the Society of American Artists and formed The Ten American Painters. Estranged from his family, Twachtman spent the summers of 1900 and 1901 in Gloucester, where he died suddenly on August 8, 1902.

Adapted from Eye, ET

Diary of an Adventure

Leisure Island Adventures

Owl greeting the sunset. The sunroom of the house a haven on these chilly days. Morning walks hurried and afternoon walks scrambled between Tour De France.

Whole pumpkin cooked on the weber, with chèvre. The pumpkin essentially for Polly’s food, but an excuse to try something I haven’t done for far too long. Served with grilled lamb chops made for a simple, scrumptious dinner.
My bum hurts after its 10 km trail run through the forests. I think there was a flat section at some point, but I missed it as I was trying to clear the sweat (tears???) from my glasses, which were flecked with mud from the latest fall. The palm of my hand, bruised from its use as a shock absorber. Both from the tumbles as well as moving trees out of the pathway that were strategically placed to prevent a headlong dive down the hillside. Between this, the flowers in the fynbos were stunning!

bru  Coffee

Oil on Canvas 40cmx50cm


The village is noisy with Forest marathon (which I did not do) stories, fueled by the great food and wine which is everywhere. It’s school holidays and the rain has stayed away, so kids are all over the streets, with their laughter making the stars sparkle. Even the chaotic traffic seems energized.
A tide of pink shirts, including Terry, for the breast cancer awareness walk. Enthusiasm unaffected by the grey brooding skies and rain. I was happily ensconced with a Seattle coffee and the Sunday papers, watching the flow of pink through the rain speckled window.
My painting, ‘The Sea’, has gone to its new home. Always special to hand over one of my works and see it take on a new life as it energizes discussion. Looking forward to seeing it hanging in its new space. The challenge to paint more abstract works!
At the studio apartment, the bashing out of the outside walls has started. The wall around the staircase has gone and the garage walls are ready for the slab. The kitchen extension has started, we have finalized the tiles to be used in the bathroom and the new stove and fridge are ordered.
Ernest, a sculptor from Zimbabwe sits at East Head selling his art to passing tourists. He has the most amazing face, which I wanted to capture. It’s been awhile since I painted any portraits and the larger canvas I have to work with is invigorating.

Diary of an Adventure

Leisure Island Adventures

Sun out, monstrous seas at the Heads. The challenge to paint seas that dance. Carefree, with wild abandon. Yet, restless. Full of power. Van Gogh’s ‘Seascape at Saintes-Maries’, an inspiration, as is the incredible abstract painting by Turner, ‘Storm at Sea’.

Sunshine on the balcony of the apartment making for perfect afternoons where the wine evaporates. Waters of the lagoon, an inviting mirror smooth surface on which to paddle.
Dark evening. Power out. Sky full of stars. The moon starting to make an appearance. Chilly outside it is! Not that there is anything to complain about, after a sunshine filled day, with hardly a murmur of wind, which enabled us to enjoy sundowners on the terrace of the apartment. The builders haven’t started to break the place up, which is all good as we refine our thoughts on what we want. Discard more of the superfluous, that seems traditional, rather than functional.
Quotation in from the builder for the alterations. Breathtakingly large numbers. More than hoped for. What, given the complexity, was expected. Time for a bottle, or two, of wine, before a dinner of Terry’s Boef Bourguignon.
Dad and Mary visiting for a few days in Wilderness. The chance to stop and look out over the sea, rather than our normal habit of dashing past.

Messing About with Paint

The Sea

Oil on Canvas 50cmx40cm

The challenge to paint seas that dance. Carefree, with wild abandon. Yet, restless. Full of power. Spray from the pounding waves, caught in the rainbow hues of morning sunlight.

 Van Gogh’s ‘Seascape at Saintes-Maries’, an inspiration, as is the incredible abstract painting by Turner, ‘Storm at Sea’.

The essence of crating an abstract painting still a mystery to me, but I think by focusing on the first key elements, I have something I can work from. 

Perhaps, I have still gone too far?