Circles Posted on July 7, 2020July 26, 2020 by Julia Johnson AllDavid Hammons, ‘Bliz-aard Ball Sale’, 1983. Not technically ‘circles’ but ‘spheres’, but I give myself a pass on this one. This was a piece of what I guess you’d call ‘performance art’ in which Hammons spent a day selling snowballs on a street in New York. It’s been interpreted as a comment upon the hollowness of capitalism, life in the face of an increasingly materialist mainstream culture from which many Black people were economically excluded.Uta Uta (Wuta Wuta) Tjangala, “Yumari”, 1981. Researching this topic I was interested to learn about the history of dot painting, a style which is seen as quntissentially Aboriginal Australian. It actually originated in a settlement called Papunya in the 1970’s, where Aboriginal people had been forcibly settled. Encouraged by an art teacher named Geoffrey Bardon, the paintings emerged from a transition from marking on transitory surfaces such as sand to the permanence of canvas. The style means artists can retell Dreaming stories without depicting the sacred traditions or artefacts of the tribe directly. Tjangala was one of the founding artists of the movement.Hilma af Klint, “Group IV, The Ten Largest, no.3, Youth”, 1907. Af Klint was a Swedish painter who produced hundreds – thousands - of works, none of which were publicly exhibited until after her death (she stipulated in her will it had to be a minimum of 20 years). As her work has become more known, her renown has grown with it, and some now regard her as one of the earliest abstract painters. Moderna Museet in Stockholm are currently showing a retrospective and I’m sad I can’t go. Af Klint’s paintings aren’t mere flights of fantasy – she was heavily involved in spiritualism, theosophy and seances, and believed her works conveyed direct messages from the spirit world. Colours had meaning, and so did shapes – spirals led to knowledge, and circles, loosely drifting in their space, suggest a spiritual space. Notice as well that they recreate natural floral shapes."Self-Portrait with Two Circles", Rembrandt van Rijn, c.1665-69. It’s not exactly clear why Rembrandt chose to make the background of this self-portrait a blank space with these two circles. One theory is that it’s an assertion of his genius at a time when he had little else. At this point Rembrandt was practically penniless – for all his success he was crap with money management (lesson for us all). As discussed above drawing a perfect circle has a history of being considered a sign of talent, and to draw these two might be the artist putting down his marker. His pose and expression hve also been read as “defiant”, which compliments this theory. Personally, I rather like the contrast between the finesse of the circles and the expressionist, textured style in which he’s committed his self-depiction to canvas.Barbara Hepworth “Square With Two Circles”, 1963. If you’ve read my comments on the Kandinsky on unity and flow, this is how it’s done! I love how Hepworth uses the square to create a blank space, and then makes the circles a focus with negative space. The driving forces of the sculpture aren’t actually there, but in their absence they give purpose to the surrounding space – both of the sculpture and landscape beyond.Jain map of the mortal universe, 18th century. There are many cultural stories from around the world in which origin stories, histories and calendars are depicted in circles. Nature is cyclical, after all. Jains have been making these maps since around the 14th century. The construction of the universe and relationships between the ‘world spaces’ in Jain cosmology is complex – you can read more about it here. This image shows the ‘middle world’ or ‘two and a half continents’, which is the only place humans can be born. The outer yellow circle shows the limits of this world, the space beyond which human beings cannot live.Wassily Kandinsky, “Colour Study. Squares with Concentric Circles”, 1913. Christ, I HATE this piece. It wasn’t actually created as an ‘artwork’ but rather a study for ideas, and I wish it had stayed that way. I think this is an example of the work being taken too seriously because of who it’s by – and I say that as somebody who consider’s Kandinsky’s “Compositions” amongst my favourite artworks. I just don’t get any sense of or purpose to the circles – they’re loose, but not contemplative. There’s too many of them for that, so you end up visually jumping from one to another without any of the unity and flow I usually find so pleasing in his work. The colour palette also upsets me; I don’t find any of his combinations successful.