An Interview with Gerard and Elisabeth Wagner
From: ‘Anthroposophy and Painting’
Dialogues with 17 Artists Andreas Maeckle
Cologne, Dumont, !990,
Dumont Taschenbuecher Bd, 252
(Voluntary translation by Katherine Rudolph)
Elisabeth Wagner-Koch, born in 1923 in Gut Wickerhausen, Solling, Germany, Abitur 1942 – 1943 – 1950. Study and work as a Sculptor, Exhibitions and prize in youth competition, 1950 – 1955 Painting Training with Gerard Wagner in Dornach Switzerland, 1956 Training in Eurythmy and Curative Eurythmy, since 1960 together with Gerard Wagner, establishing and directing the Goetheanum Painting School, teacher at the Rudolf Steiner teacher training in Dornach. 1960 – 1999.
Gerard Wagner, born in Wiesbaden, educated in England 1924 – 1926, Study of Painting in St. Ives, and at the Royal Academy of Art in London, from whence his path led on to Dornach. There he met the spiritual and artistic work of Rudolf Steiner, which fructified all his further creative work. The quest for an ‘objective’ life of colour, out of its relation to nature, man and the cosmos became his life’s work. This quest is the basic motive for the content and range of his unusual paintings.
Seeking for answers, the painter built up a methodical ‘instrumentality’ for a goal-oriented experimentation in the realm of colour. It was to this depth of study that the artist dedicated himself to being the ‘servant of colour’. His extraordinary work shows how artistic phantasy can unite in true freedom with the scientific method, when selfless devotion to the being of colour lives in the soul. This artistic impulse for knowledge fired his untiring creative strength.
‘Learning is always the only grounds for painting.’
During my education in the Waldorf School, we usually made jokes openly or in secret about Rudolf Steiner’s painting. It seemed too awkward, far from everything that modern painting had to offer. This seemed to occur whether it concerned the sketches for the Cupula painting in the First Goetheanum, sketches for the Friedwart School, or even the training sketches for painters, which carried such titles as ‘Sunrise’, ‘Sunset’ etc. Our juvenile mentality didn’t give those unpretentious pictures much of a chance. Today, more than sixty years after their origin, it has become increasingly clear that the painting of Rudolf Steiner has become a fruitful progressive impulse.
Certainly when one first meets these apparently rough drawn pictures, their unpretentious appearance might indeed seem strange. Only after years of research, comes an intimation of how colour itself has created form, thereby manifesting the formative forces. However, such an understanding can only grow out of a systematic study, which is built on a training made out of first hand experience. On the strength of which the living being of the colour world can be grasped. Then these remarkable sketches become the seeds for a new dimension in the evolution of painting, a new birth for the Art of Colour.
Maria Strakosch- Giesler (1877-1971) belonged to those who first acted upon Steiner’s ideas in the field of painting and worked to develop the new impulse. She had studied in Kandinsky’s Painting School, ‘Phalanx’ from 1903-1906 and introduced Kandinski to Steiner. Later she grounded the Painting School for Rudolf Steiner’s Theory of Colour. (Stuttgart 1920-1938).
It belongs to the symptomatology of our century, that is the same years in which Rudolf Steiner gave his impulses for cultural regeneration, which culminated in the building of the First Goetheanum; that the ‘Bauhaus’ was also founded. Two opposite poles of world-view. The burning of the First Goetheanum and the early death of Rudolf Steiner prevented this artistic renewal from developing as it might have. His students were confronted with the earliest strivings. They needed to painstakingly prepare the way to methodically build up their instrumentality in order to make fruitful the many indications that Rudolf Steiner had given.
Because the impulses he brought are entirely new, one can understand the apparently dilettantish strivings of the ‘so called Anthroposophical’ artists, who sought to follow such paths. They were seeking to discover the harmony between the world of nature and the world of colour and form, and their inherent unity
in a higher sphere. From this point of view modern artistic striving can be seen as neither abstract nor naturalistic. No one who has embarked on this path would be considered to have progressed beyond the very first beginnings.
Another important painter, next to Maria Strakosch-Giesler who carried the Steiner impulse was Henni Geck (1884- 1951). Herr Wagner was one of those who experienced her instruction. To my knowledge, Steiner’s sketches and watercolours were first of all simply copied…
Miss Geck had received a sequence of simple training motifs to be used as basic instructions for her students. These were generally called the ‘Sketches’. Unfortunately, I could only take part in her teaching for three-quarters of a year. Although we had to pay the minutest attention to the relationship between colour and form, it was by no means copying in the usual sense. In this short time, I had painted only the first three motifs: ‘Sunrise’, ‘Sunset’, and ‘Shining Moon’. Through careful contemplation and perceptive feeling of colour, lines and forms in these originals, something happened within me. An intense interest awakened, which could be expressed by the words, ‘these are indeed organisms’. One experienced something in these creative forms, about which one had to say,’ they are exact’ – that is, no accidental or arbitrary formations. They are not made in the likeness of any natural object, but the particular parts of their form and movement are at the same time adapted to one another, They carry and determine one another to a degree as otherwise experienced only in the limbs of a living organism, where every detail is connected with the whole in a necessary relationship; they ‘live’, so to speak. This perception was something, which would remain, and, gradually, decade after decade become more and more conscious.
Did you then pursue this work on the sketch motifs?
Yes, to this very day. These so called ‘Sketches’… I see them as something like archetypal pictures, stand- points to which one can always come back again. For the painter, they are themselves a quest, an intense inner artistic process involving the being of colour and its relationship to form. What came into being often barely resembled the picture-forming of Rudolf Steiner – however it was important to me, that whatever I painted should begin to exist artistically in its own right. How to choose and experience the colours in order to approach Rudolf Steiner’s results has always been my question.
One might suppose that in this way a dependency on the original sketch would ensue. But in fact it is absolutely the opposite. In so far as one follows one’s own perception of lawful progression in the colour world, even if the result looks a lot different than the original, it has its own validity and free independence. For colour experience must become stronger than the power of the mental image and must be able to supersede the latter. Then it leads us into the realm of living moving colour, out of which the original motifs are in a process of becoming anew.
As an art historian, I am no painter. I see colours – coloured paintings. I can perceive the changing effects, as well as learn to analyse and describe to a certain extent, what I can already think and sense about them. But in anthroposophical schools like your Goetheanum Painting School, if I understand correctly, a mystical life of colour is the theme.
This word could cause misunderstandings. The human soul can sense and improve its own colour perception by artistic experimenting. What is colour? Not only the visual colour, but also gradually, the inner colour perception, that can be finally perceived to exist independently of the outer substance.
A suprasensible, cosmic reality of colour being?
Such a colour life is not immediately present. It can take years until one once has the feeling that a colour experience has emerged into life itself. It must become possible to call on this colour experience as one likes. In so far as one is led into the life element through colour perception, one comes into the realms that nature has created in an ever-present spirit nature. Thus the training of colour experience proves to be a preparation for a natural science according to the spirit.
- Maeckler: An organological world picture : How do you carry it over into art, the ‘second world of nature’?
That is the great question for the painter, who, in his way and in his field – is searching for an ‘Art of the Organic World’. The same question comes about when we arrive at the motif out colour.
The fact that worthy answers are experienced for the first time in the indications of Rudolf Steiner, becomes apparent to those who earnestly experiment in order to learn about them. How do the processes lead to results such as ‘Sunrise’ and “Sunset’, ‘Moonrise’ and ‘Moonset’, ‘Madonna’ and ‘Easter’, ‘Archetypal Plant’ and Archetypal Animal’? No matter how long one continues to work with these indications, there remains endless potential for further development.
The indications are not like ‘pictures’ in the usual sense. That stands to reason, for all of the motifs have been given as ‘sketches’ for a course of study – a training path for painters. We have been working with them from forty to sixty years all together. They lie at the basis of the training we are seeking – to meditate as a beginning step.
I can understand the paradox. However, it begins to open up a key question: Is it possible to raise the argument against this or any other such training, that the mark of individuality, the personal artistic freedom is negated in the end, displaced in favour of producing something?
The feeling of absolute freedom – Naturally it belongs today to the deepest contentions of the modern human being who has discovered his creativity. How does the individual use it?
Can any ‘freedom’, in research or teaching, in science or art, rest on ‘arbitrary production’? How shall the conscience of our times, to which research and theory mean so much, find its necessary artistic expression? An amoral scientific research has invented the possible destruction of earth and mankind. No artistic endeavour can develop further, which does not find its nourishment in spiritual wellsprings. To seek for these wellsprings is a free deed of the creative striving artist.
Doesn’t art have a priority: the task of being a mirror expression of its times? Does painting even have the occasion or possibility to lead back to the origin? All that which German idealism has clothed in age – old metaphors as ‘language of the soul of man’; isn’t that long since over and done with, when measured against the turbulent, paradoxical working practice in the artistic realm of today?
From out of this new approach of the active artistic and art appreciative soul, this ‘language’ will be able to be newly regenerated. To that end, colour itself can take the lead, for it in its totality already builds the bridges between the human soul and the world and nature of spirit. In the quiet of the practice of painting does the path open up, not out of traditions, out of any sort of old order of standards that have been passed down. :
No, out of the chaos of the degenerating culture of the year 2000, does the human being in his soul awakening to the ‘I am’ in freedom come to grips with a new spiritual law.
Our whole feeling of modern life, our conception of ‘truth’ and ’beauty’, our inner connection to nature and man, our relationship to the spiritual in our world, – are held in constant transformation. Never have artistic styles changed so often as today, following the ‘isms’ of one or the other, and, as quickly disappearing. The art of this century is the expression of all the rules and regulations of the liberating of the individual, an expression of the battle for the identity of the image of mankind and the world at the beginning of the third year thousand. We live in a time of space age investigations, of the almost total domination of calculable natural forces of the laws of life itself. Now, indeed, has the point in times arrived where adequate new questions about the realm of art must now be posed…
The ‘laws’ that are being sought here are not of the outer order. They are the same ones, which are perceptible in the living organism of nature and mankind. One may think of a blade of grass, its form passes on, but the laws, after which, it is created are of eternal value.
A task for research in the realm of painting?
It is a quest for the forming forces, which are active in connection to nature. The changing play of growth and decay, morning and evening, summer and winter… life and death – are utterances of rhythm carrying wisdom, which is also actively creative in the world of colour. In a similar way that ‘mother nature’ in her masterful, inexhaustible, true phantasy evolves and transforms in the realm of human beings, and animal; is there not also a mysterious order of living, artistic lawfulness, which creates its diverse stability out of the ‘free space of balance’?
If we want to lay hold of these living, metamorphosing, forming forces, in an artistic way, we need a new ’quality of learning’. Colour has itself such an independent life to consider, that we can learn something about the world from it as a new point of investigation. It is a question of understanding the nature of balance, not as a condition (static), but as a process (life).
In addition, the creative individuality of the artist must be trained and educated to be able to unfold freely – that is unhampered by picture images’ from nature and free from arbitrary subjectivity. The individual, personal independence of the striving artist can develop more freely from the basis of such methodical training.
That implies, however, that one must first of all be prepared, dedicated to put such a meditative path into practice. I can imagine that a rational, materialistic critic would as close to this as would his non-painting contemporaries. If we turn aside from those who want to know absolutely nothing about it… might you again go through the whole anthroposophical path of training, step by step, from colour to colour, and form to form in the way that you understand it?
Without paper and colour, that is actually impossible! – Impossible as well to say it with only a few words. Therefore we should like to refer you once again to our publication in which there are colour representations of the visual instructions. (see notes 4-8). It is an extremely subtle theme in any case, because one must be quite prepared to enter into a process open-mindedly, and making no judgements while keenly perceiving and living into it. It is precisely concerning this point that one finds the most diverse points of view amongst artists. – Because it goes without saying that each one forges his own individual path, which makes his own personal quest a reality. The tasks, which Rudolf Steiner sets for us are so all encompassing, that generations of artists will be able to work on them.
But is the principally fine layering of aquarelle in the painting practice of Anthroposophy not somewhat one-sided, compared to the large amount of artistic colour materials and techniques available today?
That is a misconception, which arises out of the fact that the large ‘room to play’ offered by this technique is rarely made use of . To the contrary, our experience has shown that one finds the greatest and most many-sided potential expression in aquarelle painting.
This is particularly true for plant colour, which presents a completely new colour forming experience. He who is able to master the technical difficulties does not wish to return to other techniques. At the very least, it is the technique adequate for our work; it allows the essential inner being of colours to speak out.
‘Painting out of the colour’ lays claim to the attribute of a new kind of creativity, in that it has a unique occult sense. It is not only that the colours are used as a matter of course to bring a motif to expression; might they not be a language, which is to be listened to?
Whoever tries to tread this path can come to the certainty, that the indications of Rudolf Steiner, when they are sufficiently penetrated, can lead to understanding and shaping forms arising out of the forces inherent in colour, thus causing form in a life element without damaging it. In that Rudolf Steiner has given us these picture-images arising out of life forming in colour, he has set the goals for the far future of painting.
Since early Romanticism ha s the image of the autonomy of colour as well as its systematic research been met again and again. By this time it has been emancipated. Since Impressionism in Paris, it has been the fashion of the avant-garde to create out of the colour. ‘Colour for colours sake’ – was the way Robert Deaunay had transformed the famous expression ’Art for art’s sake by Victor Cousin 1836. Can this now mean something more?
Yes, the question was posed at that time. There were the first steps for freeing the colour from objects. The great task for the spiritual task of art inspired the artist at the beginning of the twentieth century. Rudolf Steiner grasps this question at the root. He not only frees colour from the object. There they would have to lose themselves in the non-being of abstractions. He carries them back to their origin, the evolutionary stream of the evolving cosmic earth. There the elementary substance is forming out of which transformed materiality is built. That is also in reality, the mystery of the relationship between colour and form, which entails the enigma that colour can become the medium, which can lead us into the world of the living. We no longer stand opposite nature in order to imitate it, reject it and dismember it. We may learn how to live in its forces and to accompany these forces artistically in order to allow a ‘new nature to arise, which, as Goethe says – would be viable even if it doesn’t actually exist as such.
May this individual learning also be understood as experimenting with colour with its movements and possible combinations/ Mr. Wagner, for decades you have been developing your style. Of coming to motifs in the painting, which arise out of the pure lasured ground colour. Finally you begin with the purpose of metamorphosis out of the realms of the human and the animal.
Those are the most interesting questions; they serve to objectify one’s own perceptions. Also: One seeks foremost the ‘question’ which is formulated as ‘the colour path’. There is no content of picture image, rather the absolute, most alert interest for that which will result as the painting proceeds. It’s accompanied by simultaneous observation of the activity. There s the question, really, the kind of experimentation in the realm of feelings and sense perception, which in the presence of enough comparison and repetition, can lead to colour statements of a provable nature through exact procedure.
Even painting and altering any ‘one’ beginning colour in its movement through different colour backgrounds, we would long be occupied. It would lead us to the most surprising results, as single motifs become visible through the transitions and relationships. When we go about with the right ‘research principles’, such experimentation in the world of colour, not only allows for continuous progression, but is also of the greatest interest, indeed, exiting! No one should become discouraged if he doesn’t experience much for a long time. We know, of course, that we must first build the organs that bring these experiences to consciousness. And, really, not only are patience and perseverance part of the process; one always strives to begin again from nothing.
I understand that you associate colour with a kind of ‘law unto itself. Would you like to explain some of how colour transforms in a process, which leads to the finished motif.
The ‘experiments’ with colour, which for decades had been carried through with more and more consistency, gradually took on more distinct forms. They lead to rows of metamorphoses, which represent an attempt to come to ‘knowledge about painting’ through the methodical process. Generally most of my paintings can be placed in this sort of experimenting, because they were painted above all to establish the relationship between colour and form. The thought of painting paintings, which would be possibly exhibited or sold, then appeared quite remote. The process of painting itself, to immerse oneself ever and again in the mysterious proceedings of holding and carrying colour in a floating balance has always been my interest. There shouldn’t be any distinct, readily made ‘motif’ arbitrarily set. The ‘motif however appears gradually through more exacting insights into the ’right’ following of colour-sequence, in which lies the basis of motif- forming.
How do you mean that?
That is a musical time problem. That which we call ‘colour sequence’ is a path of colours by which, as if out of an underlying inner connection, a certain motif necessarily follows. Yellow, blue, red is another motif than blue, red, yellow. We strive above all to bring each single colour out of such a sequence to a harmonious state of balance, before we place the following one. The whole proceeding is a highly living process, and the actual training consists of learning to live consciously in this process. If this succeeds, the resulting feeling is that of absolute freedom, which desires no more.
A new conception of ‘freedom’?
It is not a conception – it si an inner way of conducting oneself. Perhaps one could describe it in this way: To direct the strength of the active will (that which is called for by the thing in itself) in order to make it serve a higher order from out of an inner decision. The personal wish for artistic taste or extraordinary ideas no longer plays a role. It is the opposite, in a remarkable way. We can only begin to feel free when a selfless state has prevailed, where we are free from the personal and the arbitrary. The meaning of personal artistic activity as a way for the individual to understand himself, and how he belongs to the social structure of a life organism is one of our currant quests in a modern world. We also seek to understand how to live together with nature and our responsibility to the environment. Look at the social problems of our time, the lack of mutual understanding between people, the phenomenon of terrorism and the destruction of nature. Consider what Art is metaphorically trying to communicate in this century…Much of this shows shocking implications. What is the cause in reality? Where does one find the effect? …
The global ‘loss of consciousness’ makes every thinking, feeling human being ask such questions in an attempt to change his whole ‘way of being’ and to prevent human abilities from being ‘sold out’ to the thinking, writing, music making machines. Perhaps the time has come today when we must learn to re-evaluate our thoughts – not only in the fields of economy, armaments, environmental protection, law, medicine, human education, and so forth. Perhaps we must find the courage to make the first steps in searching for new paths in the evolution of architecture, sculpture, painting and the other arts of our time. From a ‘moral experience of the colour world’ to the experiencing of the colours themselves does our path direct us.
And its goals?
Here the question becomes finding access once again to the cosmic life forces. The responsibility towards life must bring about a uniting of science and art in order to permeate both with a new feeling of religious perception. This question of our spiritual task will accompany us into the next thousand years.
© Copyright 2012 Katherine Rudolph Exploring The Word In Colour And Speech