Abstract art is a hit or miss for me. I either find it visually pleasing & interesting or I don’t. Great use of color or shapes evoking cubism and interesting patterns are a winning hook, so I find I very much like the works of Sonia Delaunay (as well as her husband, Robert Delaunay), who produced the sort of abstract paintings above in the early 20th century, as well as fashion designs based upon her abstract art.
Syncopated Rhythm gives us that black snake along the left next to the sort of geometric quasi-cubist juxtapositions of color and shape found in much of Delaunay’s work. While looking through a gallery of her work online after getting a tip from Elinor Shapiro, illustrator of my latest book, this was the one that leapt out at me for some reason. I studied it for a while and tried to figure out why… maybe because I remember riding along a Rhode Island country street named Snake Hill Road as a kid and made sure to work it into my second Wagstaff book. That black snake with its white line looks like a winding black top road, doesn’t it? Maybe the colors could be the different houses along it, or deep into the nearby woods… or maybe simply the way I remember seeing the different colored ’60s modern boxy houses pass by quickly out the rectangular car window as I rode along and looked out.
It’s hard to tell if Sonia Delaunay influenced Robert Delaunay’s work or vice versa. Most likely they were of like mind & influenced each other. They both painted similar styles, although she outlived him by decades due to his premature death from cancer. Her material reminds me a lot of Paul Klee’s use of color, although her shapes & definitions are sharper. But I always liked Klee’s stuff as well, even if I couldn’t figure out what the hell he meant by it… I just liked looking at it. That ought to be enough, shouldn’t it?
And since you know all too well from reading my Wagstaff books that I’m always on the lookout for synchronicities abounding around us, I’ll offer up a few that leapt out to me shortly after getting the hat-tip from Elinor – first was that Sonia Delaunay came from a Jewish family outside of Odessa, Russia, which is where a branch of my own family came from. At 5, she got to live with a wealthier Uncle in St. Petersburg, in a house filled with books, art and music, and this most certainly sank in…. sorta like how Phigg & Clyde relate to Uncle Phineas in the new book.…
And along with those magical connections, I came across this bit of fashion design from Delaunay:
And just the other day in my post previous to this one, I wrote about the film Scarlet Street, where Edward G. Robinson paints a portrait of femme fatale Joan Bennett, passing it off as her self portrait. This is what it looks like:
Granted, it’s a bit more art nouveau… but I got a similar vibe from the model in that photo and the portrait of Joan Bennett. Maybe it’s the hair and eyes.
Unlike the fate of Edward G. Robinson in Scarlet Street, Delaunay found fame during her life, and worked in both the fine arts and in industrial design. Only she and Braque got Louvre exhibitions while alive, and she had a career in designing textiles, jewelry and tableware as well, living into her 90s, dying in 1979.
She designed & wore fashions to match her car designs, too. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that before.
Or have I…. hmmm….
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