In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

works by artists who do indeed have an understanding of some branch of learning apart from their own creative field and who use this learning first to understand and then to explicate for others the theoretical basis of their art. Not that the latter need be any less portentous than the former-especially when they are based on an evolutionary perspective which parades the history of art in review and, by placing the author in the final chapter, suggests (tacitly)that he is indeed at the current leading edge of the world’s stylistic development. (F.E. Smith once remarked that Winston Churchill was writing his autobiography disguised as a history of the Universe!) Karl Gerstner’s The Forms of Colour is in the latter category though it must be said straight away that the book is engagingly modest in tone and discusses an area of learning that will be of great interest to many readers ofleonardo. His subject is “the interaction of visual elements”, in particular the elements which go to make up abstract art of the Constructivist variety. Writing firmly in the Pythagorean tradition expressed in Plato’s “Timaeus”, Gerstner is concerned with the innumerable patterns in nature which are assimilated to the patterns of geometry. In his case, the patterns of geometry include not only the geometry of physical space but also the geometry of colour space-that is to say, ‘harmonic’ relationships between colours manifested in their positions in some abstract threedimensional description or ‘space’. Indeed it is precisely the connection between these two sets of relationships in works of art that provides Gerstner with the material for his own polychrome relief sculpture. Given the author’s starting point, it is not surprising that, along with a good deal of interesting factual material on pattern-making (which connects up a perceptive account of some of the great Islamic decorations at the Alhambra in Spain with some fascinating byways in recent studies of graph theory and topology), the book also addresses the time-honoured concern for the ultimate hidden geometrical substrate, the harmonices mundi. Much of this tradition is German and the familiar names of Kepler, Goethe and Runge are somewhpt surprisingly joined by Wilhelm Ostwald, winner of the Nobel prize for chemistry and, later, originator of one of the most widely used colour systems, in which simple symmetries and complementarities can be picked out as generators of harmonious colour combinations. Ostwald was, it turns out, interested in extending his systematisation of colour into geometry generally, and Gerstner uses Ostwald’s now-forgotten investigations into networks as generators of patterns as the pivotal point of the book, linking the great tradition of patternmaking with some twentieth-century formal preoccupations, notably in the work of the Swissartist Hans Hinterreiter. However it is Wassily Kandinsky who provides Gerstner’s own inspiration. In particular Gerstner is interested in Kandinsky’s ideas on the relationship between primary colours and simple geometric forms. Kandinsky’s notion that there is a ‘natural’ relationship between yellow and the triangle, red and the square, and blue and the circle-the classic example of Platonistic speculation in this field-causes Gerstner some problems since it leaves out green. Moreover, it is untidy in the way it relates a series of discontinuous geometric forms to the continuum of the spectrum of visible light with which it is supposed to have some important connection. Gerstner’s solution to this analogical puzzle is to introduce a further series of forms-the octagon and two pointed and one rounded star-shapes-which form a more felicitous sequential counterpart for the six dominant hues in the colour circle. On the basis of this proposition and its extension into computer-generated hybrids he has developed the series of works in coloured relief which are the real subject of the book. These are lavishly illustrated and will raise a question in the minds of readers who may find the text obscure and irrelevant and the assumptions arbitrary and capricious: Does it matter what is the theoretical basis if the works themselves are beautiful?-which they are. Gerstner attempts to answer this question by a further chunk of theory, again of a familiar Platonistic...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 98-100
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.