The house of construction: The Bauhaus

“Total architecture” is what WALTER GROPIUS (1883-1969) looked for in the development of his career as an architect. This concept was carried on by his pupils in the Bauhaus, a school located in Weimar, Germany (1919-1924), later on moving to Dessau in 1925 due to the hostility  from the new government elected the previous year. These are considered the two eras of the Bauhaus with Gropius as the head of the school (later moved to Berlin under the directorship of Mies Van der Rohe and closed in 1933 by the nazis), since it’s manifesto and goals evolved over the years with the help of the masters and their vision of art in the modern world. We have to understand the context in which the Bauhaus developed, that is, multiple art ideologies, social turbulence and war, and the so called ”manifestos” in which the artists of an art movement expressed their objectives in the most raw and direct way. Furthermore, the invention of photography in the first quarter of the 19th century and its constant evolution in depicting reality as accurately as possible (which, for many centuries, was the ”job” of painting and sculpture) redirected and questioned visual arts in every aspect: why do we create art? how should we create art? what is art?

“Architects, sculptors, painters, we must all go back to the crafts… There is no essential difference between the artist and the craftsman”. To achieve this integration of art and craft, a technical instructor and an artist (also named ”teacher of form”) taught in each department of the Bauhaus. To eliminate the boundaries between the different disciplines, the Bauhaus offered a wide range of courses such as weaving, pottery, metalwork, stained glass, mural painting, stage design, typography, in addition to painting, sculpture and architecture. In summary, Gropius wanted to eliminate any barrier between artists and craftsmen. Gropius also emphasised on preparing artists with the abilities to design and create art and functional objects suited to the needs of the 20th century, focusing on new materials and machine-age technology, being mass production a fact to consider when designing. We have to understand that these principles were utopic, such as its manifesto:

“Conception and visualisation are always simultaneous. Only the individual’s capacity of feel, to know and to execute varies in degree and in speed. True creative work can be done only by the man whose knowledge and mastery of the physical laws of statics, dynamics, optics, acoustics equip him to give life and shape to his inner vision. In a work of art the laws of the physical world, the intellectual world and the world of the spirit function and are expressed simultaneously.”

Among the most important artists that taught in the Bauhaus and shared Gropius vision were Paul Klee (1879-1940), Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944) , László Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946) and Josef Albers (1888-1976). These artists marked the beginning of an era that focused on the primacy and importance of good foundation of design principles: symmetry against asymmetry, balance against rhythm, value against color, organic against geometric. It was isolating the principles and theory of design from the painting process, and communicate as much as possible with the least amount of elements; the truthfulness behind the visual, the physical and the essence of materials and objects. These concepts have been used and adapted to almost every art school nowadays, being the most important legacy of the Bauhaus after its 14 scarce years of existence.

Screen Shot 2014-04-12 at 6.11.09 PM   The only woman that became part of the Bauhaus staff was Gunta Stöltzl (1897-1983). She started as one of the Bauhaus students in Weimar, but she showed natural talent for drawing and design. I picked her work to do a formal breakdown since it is interesting to study a student’s perspective and her life’s work after the Bauhaus. I can imagine the amount of inspiration that she got from her teachers, and it is funny to know now that probably they were unaware of the big change in design history they were achieving with their ”outside the box” thinking and problem solving. As a graphic designer I’m extremely grateful because I understand the influence and legacy that they have given to the “functional” side of art, if that makes sense.

Gunta Stölzl. Gobelin tapestry, 1926-1927. Linen and cotton.

Gunta Stölzl. Gobelin tapestry, 1926-1927. Linen and cotton.

Stölzl’s work is a combination of line and shape that ultimately transforms into complex patterns. On this particular tapestry, she creates sections of patterns with thin and delicate lines that later interlace with bigger, flat shapes. The thin patterned lines create noise and visual tension in some areas, while bigger shape areas function as a visual rest. Lines, shape and interlacing result in a rich and complex composition.

Another layer of complexity is added through color. formThe Bauhaus was against having a ”house style” in all its disciplines, but Gunta (particularly influenced by Paul Klee) had a very unique and appealing style that became an important landmark in the way that the Bauhaus created images. The exploration of basic shapes (triangles, rectangles and squares) within the composition is very interesting, exploiting as much as possible of its potential.

Screen Shot 2014-02-07 at 8.44.21 PMTextures created by patterns. We can identify multiple areas of patterns, but it’s how these interact that’s interesting and appealing to the eye. The middle section for example, is surrounded by diagonal and dynamic patterns, isolating it’s rigid composition and therefore achieving contrast through shape. This same trick is used over and over again.  Another thing we can notice is how square-shape areas are divided by diagonals (see image snippet below), creating an effect of transparency and interlacing. I believe that these patterns move or eye in a circular flow (surrounding the greater pattern area in the middle), in a very lively way.

I think that Stölzl is a master of color as well. Her style is not limited by the usual black-red-beige palette that we usually run into when googling “Bauhaus”. In a way, I think she was defying the seriousness and formalism of the school (and again, influenced by Paul Klee and the vivid colors of Kandinsky) using saturated color to accentuate the playfulness of her patterns. Below there’s a small color thumbnail looking at the artwork with a black and white filter, revealing a wide range of midtones with little dark accents. The complexity of composition is attached to the complexity of color making it a remarkable artwork, since it’s successful in both.

Gunta Stölzl. Color and value study.

Gunta Stölzl. Color and value study.

As part of our art history assignment, on this post we are designing characters (my favorite!) based on the Bauhaus manifesto and utopic manifesto. I found out that this ideology translates directly to the graphic style they were using, so I have gathered reference and done research about Gunta Stölzl work and life, Paul Klee’s vision of form and color, as well as Kandinsky’s. This elements have to be mixed with the fashion of the 1920’s to make a more accurate representation, transforming the figure into basic shapes and flat colors. This exercise has been taken to the entertainment industry as well, being Pixar’s animated feature film The incredibles the clearest example that comes to my mind.  Teddy Newton is the responsible for the next collage-like sketches and concepts for the film. His focus is on using the most basic shapes to communicate a design concept, either if its an inanimate object or a character. I believe he acknowledges the fact that design is created on a flat surface, and he embraces that unique characteristic of his craft. In a particular way it is appealing an eye catching. It communicates a mood and feel in the most raw and basic way.

Isn’t this pure eye candy? I’m pretty sure that Teddy Newton has some Bauhaus and Constructivism influences, as well as Cubism and mid 20th century art. Based on this research, I created characters that could match these style guide aspects:

 

My approach for creating these characters was from an animation point of view (as if they were going to be in an animated film or TV show), imagining how could the Bauhaus graphic style be translated into the visual development process. The result, as you can see in the gallery above, is a very geometric and simplified combination of shapes. I thought that these characters could be part of a society not that far from reality (and not as utopic as their manifesto), that could accept art and function as part of life. We could see people walking down the street with Gunta Stölzl’s patterns for fabrics, or men wearing ties and vests with Klee’s artwork. The characters were created by the principle of the study of form:

“Forms and colors gain meaning only as they are related to our inner selves. Used separately or in relation to one another they are the means of expressing different emotions and movements: they have no importance of their own. Red for instance, evokes in us other emotions than does blue or yellow; round forms speak differently to us than do pointed or jagged lines. The elements which constitute the ‘grammar’ of creation are its rules of rhythm, of proportion, of light values and full or empty space”.

This is a statement taken from the Bauhaus manifesto when Gropius discusses form. I believe that this statement can be applied to everything, but it is rather interesting when it comes to character design since these ‘grammar of form’, as he defines it, is the foundation of this specific discipline,  repeated on and on in every art school around the world: contrast in shapes, proportion variation, contrast in value and color, readable silhouettes, and so on. This grammar of form is what I’ve been studying with this particular assignment.

On the other hand, the art of Teddy Newton served as an inspiration of how this problem could be solved, but it is not following his collage technique for achieving textures, mood or feel of the characters (since Newton’s characters belong to a solid story for a feature film). Below, I add a diagram breaking down how the thinking process was: outline sketch–>refinement of shapes—>add color and texture. I also found out that for couple 2 and couple 3 I didn’t do any sketch. It was more improvised and spontaneous, coming up with the shapes just by playing in Photoshop.

Character design inspired by the Bauhaus - breakdown. Francisco Guerrero. Digital. 2014.

Character design inspired by the Bauhaus – breakdown. Francisco Guerrero. Digital. 2014.

Finally and solely for educational purposes and fun, here’s the video of the ending credits sequence for Pixar’s film The Incredibles. Very modern (or should I say retro?) style, but in motion! Very exciting and beautiful work.
This is it for now, hope you enjoyed the post!

Bibliography.

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