If you are planning to visit the exhibition of Sonia Delauney at Tate Modern, you need to be seriously prepared. For starts, it is a huge exhibition crossing all sort of mediums, styles and artistic movements: from fauvism to abstraction, from quilts to furniture, paintings, prints, collages, textiles, canvas, murals, mosaics, curtains, dresses, costumes, all you can imagine! This is not an exhibition for the faint-hearted, in the sense, of being all so comprehensive and blending the realms of “art” and “life” so nicely, almost seamlessly, revealing the genius of this amazing artist. On the most practical level, just grab one of the portable seats, as there are not so many opportunities to “rest”!
I had a great time drawing on my iPad, using the Brushes application. It took me an average of 10-20 min by drawing, but I think it was a good way to understand her amazing work. I know also this is my first visit to the exhibition, as it is really substantial. In this blog I would like to mention three aspects that impacted me: Firstly, Sonia’s use of colour developed by the influence of Fauvism, her daring approach to colour and volumes, that will take her to develop a vanguard theory and practice of colour in the form of simultanism. Secondly, her entrepreneurial acumen that led her into textile design and fashion. And thirdly, her overarching aim of living a beautiful life!
Sonia was born in Ukraine in 1885and moved to St Petersburg to live with some wealthy relatives who introduced her to a work of art, culture and intelligentsia. During the Revolution she moved to Paris, and she was influenced by the Fauvism and their use of colour. I was taken by the vibrancy of her palette and her anchorage on a very Russian imagery: solid women looking in the distance, sleeping or simply being, their bone structure highlighted in unusual colours: the greens and the pinks, the purples and mauves, and the background of floral wall-papers, golden walls and ultramarine blues. What is really interesting here is how she absorbed and adopted trends and languages, making them hers! It is not just as “being influenced”, it is a process of “owning” and “transforming” and later “transcending” toward a new realm, novel experiments, evolution!
In this process she met her second husband Robert Delauney with whom she developed her theory of colour, based on the studies of the ninetheenth century chemist Midhel-Eugene Chevreul: he studied how the perception of colours seems to change when they are placed alongside each other. In this view, colours change in the proximity of other hues, resulting in multiple variations of simultaneous vibrations. Sonia took this idea and she was able to express the vibrancy of the cities and places she inhabited. From the sensuality of tango dance in Paris, the novelty of the street lights, or the nostalgic sound of Flamenco in Seville and Madrid. Clearly she was an avid sponge of knowledge, ideas, trends, she developed her own visions, pushed boundaries, experimented, collaborated, borrowed, created, recreated and make a huge impact in her own art. In her journey she met with poets and used her visual language to express poetic feelings, but also, she pioneered the inclusion of “letters” into painting, anticipating much of the cubist language and contemporary art of pop and even Tracy Emin’s use of language and texts for her art.
The second aspect that I find fascinating in this exhibition was Sonia’s ability to transform her artistic vanguardism into a practical enterpreneurial activity. While being in Spain she founded Casa Sonia, an emporium of fashion, textile design and furniture. She collaborated also with Metz & Co textile department in Amsterdam, and also with Liberty in London. She was able to create trends and make money from her genius. This is something that is truly admirable, because she did not really feel that there was a pure world of art against an “impure” world of business. This is a silly division, but sadly it is still a prevailing view amongst artists, with pejorative warnings about “selling out” or become a “marketeer”… Personally, I feel that this link between creativity and enterpreneurship is necessary in any type of trade or occupation, moreover, artists in the XXI century are able to break boundaries and subvert traditional structures of art production and consumption. Thanks to internet, we are all able to have a “shop”, a website, an identity. Artists can choose to exhibit with galleries or not, to contact people and create collective collaborations. It is true that I do not make art for the sake of money, BUT, it is nice and I expect some material retribution from my efforts.
I do not “buy” the idea of the starving artist, or the tormented genius, instead I embrace the possibility of sharing my art, get a prosperous life and keep on evolving as a human being by spreading my joy and my ideas of living a beautiful life! In this I found Sonia Delauney’s approach to her whole life as a work of art absolutely delicious! I do agree in the necessity of creating beautiful contexts around us, in the way we dress, how we live: it is not about “luxury” as in “expensive commodities” but luxury in the way we live and appreciate all around us. Indeed, perhaps one of the best examples of living beautifully is the growing trend for SLOWness, for minimalism and a rejection to stuff (Stuffocation as in the book by James Wallman). In her life she transformed her home into a work of art, from quitled curtains in the way of poems and design, her furniture and textiles, to the her obvious bon vivre attitude, this exhibition is a celebration of exhuberance, of colour, of origins, of experiments, of crossovers, of intersections and borders. It is truly a delight!