Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Perception: Victoria Topping, Fantasia and Kandinsky

Cosmic Elements II - Victoria Topping
In an extensive interview with Crack Magazine not long ago, Victoria Topping, a Hackney-based illustrator and graphic designer (who spent a number of years in Bristol - you may recognise her graphic design work for Love Saves the Day and In:Motion) discusses, amongst other things, the influences that shaped her. One of these is the Russian painter Kandinsky, famed for trying to recreate his own synaesthesia in his artwork. Kandinsky found that seeing colours and painted marks triggered musical notes and sounds, and vice versa. One in 2,000 experience this fascinating condition. a number far greater than I would have predicted. As a child, Kandinsky found mixing colours in his paintboxes triggered a sort of hissing sound. Not only was he to become one of the most famous artists of all time, but he was also an accomplished cellist (which he believed represented the deepest blue of all instruments). It seems obvious really, that he was a synaesthete, as many of his works are titled as if a piece of music: "Fugue", "Improvisation IV", "Composition VII".

"The deeper the blue becomes, the more strongly it calls man towards the infinite, awakening in him a desire for the pure and, finally, for the supernatural… The brighter it becomes, the more it loses its sound, until it turns into silent stillness and becomes white."

Composition VII - Wassily Kandinsky
The crossover between any form of art with music is wonderfully tangible and always a source of intrigue for me. How the senses shape your own perception is itself wonderful, and the cross-wiring in the brain that causes synaesthesia is one particularly remarkable manifestation of this. Rare neurological conditions aside, here's a visualization of sound from a classic from childhood - Disney's Fantasia.

But I'd better stop there as I've suddenly begun to suspect I'm rehashing a Year 7 art lesson. (But might I say the entire film is always worth a watch.)
Finally, a few more words from Kandinsky:

"Lend your ears to music, open your eyes to painting, and… stop thinking! Just ask yourself whether the work has enabled you to 'walk about' into a hitherto unknown world. If the answer is yes, what more do you want?"

And on a far less relevant note - though still on the theme of perception, a book that's recently rocked my world is  Haruki Murakami's 1Q84. A literary aficionado I am not (although I try to read whenever the mood takes me), but I was still blown away. One part in particularly that haunted me was the short story the main character reads in Book 2, featured in an excerpt from the novel on The New Yorker's website, Town of Cats. Truly recommended reading.


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