César Domela and Lao Tseu through the composition
Spiritual art

Study of François Murez - www.francois-murez.com

Extract: Some Ideas about Modern Art
(César Domela - Conference - Rio de Janeiro - 1954)

    ... It is common knowlegde that at the biginning of the present century certain artists circles had had enough of traditional aesthetic canons. Their impatience with an art which had ended up by concerning itself only ith effect was to give rise to a new, spiritual art. What is essential is not the appearence but the spiritual world which hides itself behind. This appearence can mask and reveal it at the same time.
To open a short parenthesis on spiritual art, it is my opinion that in the beginning (in the widest sense of the term) and art were one. Through religion man tried to understand the why and wherefore of things, to grasp their underlying pattern, to hear what is called "the music of the spheres", anf from this endeavour art was born, on the one hand the art of sound - incantation, prayer and poem - and on the other the art of colour and form-prayer in the shape of pictures and sculptures.
Considered from this standpoint is a picture not the outward and visible expression of a prayer or a poem? In fact, throughout my life I have been drawn towards calligraphy witch attempts to express in the purest form possible the name of the supreme being. (...) To return to the theme of spiritual art, the artist, in his search for it, became more and more deeply and genuinely interested in types of art which aesthetically appeared far removed from those of the West, but had much to teach it on its on ground.
1) Lines, surfaces and colours are units with which the artist create forces that enable him to organize the picture. For these forces to achieve their maximum intensity, it is necessary to simplifye forms.
2) The composition forms a whole and nothing can be added or taken away from it.
3) Colour is used for is dynamic effect and not for its aesthetic value.


Relief 302

        ... The composition forms a whole and nothing can be added or taken away from it ...

Spiritual art

... or being and not-being.

    ...Furthermore, this young man who took in his suitcases the Tao Te ching had to assume the friction - product of its reason - of two cultures, that of the East opposite to that of the West: the poetic language opposite to the discursive reasoning, the metaphor to the concept, Spinoza to Lao Tseu ...
Alain Clairet - Domela : Catalogue raisonné de l'oeuvre en relief

The spiritual art and Lao Tseu... How these two notions met in César Domela's works? Let us see if the construction of its object-pictures served to transpose its philosophic ideas and how?

    ... The Chinese cosmology is based on the idea of the Breath, at the same time material and spirit. From this idea of the Breath, the first thinkers advanced a unit and organic conception of the alive universe where everything is connected and is held. The essential Breath assuring the original unity continues to liven up all the beings, connecting them in a gigantic network of intertwinings and begetting called the Tao, the Way.
Within the Way, the nature of the Breath and its rhythm are ternary, in the sense that the essential Breath divides in three types of breaths who act concomitantly: the Breath Yin, the Breath Yang and the median Breath...
The Void takes here a positive sense, because it is linked to the Breath; the Void is the place where circulates and regenerates the Breath...
François Cheng - Quatrième méditation sur la beauté

Ternary rhythm...
Void... therefore full
Being and Not-Being.

Relief 137 - 1971

Brass and colored wood - 75 x 100 cm

Three elements: circle, rectangle, intertwinings of lines. We find the ternary rhythm there. So, the circle representing the infinity, the sky and the representing rectangle the finished, the earth, are driven by this movement of lines, the median breath.
Let us apply the construction by rabatment of the small sides of the rectangle.

By drawing some horizontal and vertical placed in intersections of diagonals, we find the wedging of both crossed lines.
By this construction, both lines belong to the picture in its outside limits, they belong at the bottom of this one, to the void which creates this bottom. On the other hand, the circle and the rectangle are foreign to this principle. It is again necessary to place them.

Two axes leaving of lines drawn previously give a tangent and an axis of the circle.

Let us build a rectangle just containing the circle and the rectangle and let us pull down sides.

The space between a square and the rectangle corresponds exactly to the size of the element "rectangle" of the picture. We see clearly that the circle is not in the axis of the picture: the circle, as infinity is unbalanced by comparison to the rectangle which represents the finished and which is in the axis of the picture.

The following plan shows several distances which meet in the picture :
a) The radius of the circle is the distance between a square and the rectangle of the picture (located by a small yellow arrow)
b) The height of the shape rectangle is equal to the distance between a big side of the rectangle and an horizontal drawn in the intersection of diagonals (located by a big yellow arrow)
c) The big side of the small rectangle is the same size that the small side of the big rectangle (located by a big white arrow)
All this show that nothing is left at chance and that a research for harmony is linked to common distances which answer in the picture.

The object-picture is previously preceded by a work on trace which allows Domela to be able to work its shapes before positioning them on the final work.

Drawing pencil on trace - 74 x 100 cm

This trace uses naturally the same composition in the same proportions.

And this trace is even preceded by a sketch covered by rectangles to allow to change scale.

Drawing pencil on trace - 16 x 24 cm

This sketch also uses the same proportions. It shows that the composition with both rectangles as seen previously is already applied to this sketch. The geometrical assembly must be applied from another trace or cardboard to which were drawn rectangles, squares, diagonals... and on which the trace of the sketch was put. Domela had to certainly recover in there several times before his sketch is good.

So this object-picture consists in fact of two sets which obey their own rules of composition, a set built around a circle and around a rectangle, a set built around the intertwining of 2 lines. These two sets speak to each other by harmonies of sizes, axes or diagonals. So three elements of the Chinese thought liven up by the composition and draw their life of the bottom of the picture, the Void, the Not-being.

Out of Tao, One is born;
Out of One, Two;
Out of Two, Three;
Out of Three, the created universe.
The created universe carries the yin at its back and the yang in front;
Through the union of the pervading principles it reaches harmony
Lao Tseu - Tao Te Ching - XLII

Relief 147 - 1973

Plexiglass, duraluminium and colored wood - 110 x 75 cm

We find in this picture, the previous three elements: the circle, the square, an intertwining of 3 triangles which ride circle and square. Three elements are here vertical, while they were horizontal previously. The ternary rhythm is protected. Circle and square are on the same axis but not in the axis of the picture.
Let us see if the same logic of double construction applies here.
Let us apply the construction by rabatment.

The elements of the picture do not seem to adapt themselves to this construction, only the diagonal of the square element corresponds to the diagonal of a constructed red square. But let us continue by the second smaller construction, here in yellow. It has for width the distance of 2 summits of the big triangle and for height, a little less than the height of the picture. The axis of the square passes by the intersection of 2 diagonals of a yellow square.

A yellow vertical line in the intersection of an horizontal and of a diagonal...

Another yellow vertical line in the intersection of two red diagonals...

And from there, we can draw all the sides of triangles.

The plan following watch that the distance of the axis of the square at the edge of the picture is equal to the side of the square ( green arrow) and the distance between the axis of the circle and the height of the square also meets in the composition ( blue arrow).

And to finish, 3 sides of triangles cut themselves in the same point, the big side of the white triangle equal the width of the rectangle, the diameter of the circle equal the vertical side of the red triangle, etc....

In this object-picture, we thus find 3 elements (square/earth, circle/sky, triangles/median breath) in a double composition. The full space (the geometrical shapes), symbolizing the being, remains dominating with regard to the bottom, the void, the not-being. The movement of 3 triangles livens up the set.

We put thirty spokes together and call it a wheel;
But it is on the space where there is nothing that the usefulness of the wheel depends.
We turn clay to make a vessel;
But it is on the space where there is nothing that the usefulness of the vessel depends.
We pierce doors and windows to make a house;
And it is on these spaces where there is nothing that the usefulness of the house depends.
Therefore just as we take advantage of what is, we should recognize the usefulness of what is not.
Lao Tseu - Tao Te Ching - XI

Relief 302 - 1991

Oil on wood, copper and plexiglass - 65 x 50 cm

The same principle of rabatment...

The second composition...

The width of the yellow figure is equal to the distance between one of the sides of the rectangle and a vertical line positioned by the blue construction (distance located by the black arrow)

The yellow figure is not in the axis of the picture. The black arrow shows the positioning of the intersection of yellow diagonals and the diagonals of the rectangle formed by the picture.

Let us draw two vertical lines (hatched yellow), the one in the axis of the yellow rectangle, the other one in the intersection of a yellow diagonal and of a blue horizontal line.
Then another vertical line (hatched blue) in the intersection of a yellow diagonal and a blue diagonal and a horizontal (hatched blue) in the intersection of the vertical line and the blue diagonal.

From these horizontal and vertical, we can draw the sides of triangles and encircle the rounded off shape.

We still find thus here the same logic of construction: three elements, double architecture. The movement is given by the blue shape the middle-rectangle, the middle-circle, openwork to let appear three ropes which put in echo three elements of the being and make the set vibrate such a " music of the spheres ". Three until now distant elements, here, merge and unify. This merger concentrates the Being. The bottom of the picture, the Not-being becomes dominating, and by its dominant color relegate elements to the supporting role, because " the being arises from the non-being ".
It would be also possible to complete with a study of colors: warm - cold, of materials: ribband - rough, brilliant - matt, transparent - opaque, of directions: horizontal - vertical, complementary opposite in harmony and not in exclusion.

For truly Being and Not-being grow out of one another;
Dificult and esay complete one another.
Long et short test one another.
High and low determine one another.
Pitch and mode give harmony to one another.
Front and back give sequence to one another.

He is not ejected from fruition of what he has done.

Lao Tseu - Tao Te Ching - II

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