Exercise: Compare two abstract works

The exercise I have left until last … abstraction is the area of art I never thought I would learn to love but one of the benefits of this course is that is has opened my eyes to styles and techniques and more importantly understanding and in doing so changed my opinions quite drastically!

The object of this exercise is to choose two different abstract works and think about the processes and materials used, scale of the works and any references to landscape or human figure and then write a list of adjectives which they evoke for me and finally write two sentences about each with explanations of how the artist has achieved the effect they have.

My two works are:

  1. Wassily Kandinsky – Several Circles 1926. Oil on canvas. 140 x 140 cm – this can be seen at http://www.wassilykandinsky.net/work-49.php
  2. Paul Klee – Fire in the Evening. 1929. Oil on canvas.  33 x 34 cm – this work can be seen at http://www.paulklee.net/fire-in-the-evening.jsp

Please note these images can also be seen on page 30 of Sketchbook number 3.

Both of these works are painted using oils but they are of very differing sizes – Several Circles is nearly 1.5 metres square in size and so would have a definitive presence in a room or gallery when compared to Paul Klee’s much smaller work.

Kandinsky’s Several Circles is the resulting work of a series of explorations between colours and forms and also their spiritual or psychological effects as described in the article about the online collection at  www.guggenheim.org.  Kandinsky had purposefully concentrated on just using one form and by using colour as well as masses worked out his compositions – there is no reference however to landscapes or the human figures but the art work does evoke feelings of planets or explorations of space in the cosmic sense long before man stepped foot on the moon.

Paul Klee’s work on the other hand was influenced directly by the striated cliffs of the Nile Valley which he saw on a trip to Egypt in the winter of 1928-29.  The bands of colour are suggestive of geographic formations or even buildings and tilled fields – the lines are simple and the colours muted but as the title suggests the viewer gets an impression of a fire in the early or mid evening in the desert.

List of adjectives the pieces evoke for me:  evening, linear, colour, forms, circular, cosmic, depth, exploration, vertical, calming, energetic, dynamic, focus, movement, stillness, time, rest, sunset, peace, expanding, recession, simplicity, complexity.

Several Circles:  Kandinsky has achieved an effect with this work which is both dynamic and yet focused which feels both energetic but peaceful in his use of colour and composition and also gives a feeling of exploration of the cosmos.  The colours he has used are muted in tone rather than vibrant and this grounds the work and creates a peaceful feeling despite the fact that the circles appear moving and interacting with each other giving a feeling of tension playing against the calm.

Fire in the Desert:  The red opaque rectangle close to the centre depicts the fire in the desert which in turn is represented by the muted greens, browns, violets and blues – the formations of the land and buildings which are still and give feelings of the passing of time.  The painting is  linear with vertical areas that break the horizontal lines giving a feeling of the depth and perspective of the geographical strata as it expands to or recedes away from the viewer – despite appearing dynamic or giving a feeling of movement when combined with the colours creates a feeling of peace at the end of the day.

As an exercise this was a totally different way of comparing two abstract works but one that I feel is useful – it breaks down the way I have been looking at works into a different format. It also makes me think about the adjectives I could use to describe an art work and also how the artist has achieved his effects which for me personally is particularly valuable to my understanding of abstract works.


Museum of Modern Art. 2016.  Paul Klehttps://www.moma.org/collection/works/34854e Fire in the Evening 1929 [online].  [Date Accessed:  November 2016].  Available from:

The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation. 2016. Vasily Kandinsky Several Circles [online]. [Date Accessed: November 2016].  Available from:  https://www.guggenheim.org/artwork/1992

wassilykandinsky.net.  2008-2016.  Several Circles 1926 [online].  [Date Accessed:  November 2016].  Available from: http://www.wassilykandinsky.net/work-49.php

http://www.PaulKlee.net. 2009.  Fire in the Evening, 1929 [online].  [Date Accessed:  November 2016].  Available from:  http://www.paulklee.net/fire-in-the-evening.jsp

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