What I Love about Sonia Delaunay (1885-1979)
According to The Yale Dictionary of Art & Artists by Erika Langmuir and Norbert Lynton, Sonia and Robert Delaunay became recognized for their simultaniest color theory. It described art in the following way: “the interaction of the forms and colour suggests movement in depth and on the surface.” Since theories are rendered in words, they can leave one puzzled by their abstraction. My recommendation is to get to know Sonia Delaunay’s works by looking in books, on line or if you are fortunate enough, by standing in front of them.
What luck to arrive at the Musee d’Art Moderne in Paris in October 2014 and spend the day seeing “Sonia Delaunay: The Colors of Abstraction.” I had long admired her work and felt a thrill as John and I ascended the steps of the museum. I would finally be able to see more than one or two of her paintings, which were sometimes indistinguishable from her husband, Robert’s. Were they an inseparable creative team, like Braque and Picasso? Was she recognized because or in spite of him? I would soon find out much more than anticipated.
It took several hours to see the paintings, lithographs, notebooks, photographs, films, boxes, fabrics, clothing and costumes produced during the six decades of her career. That day, I fell in love with Sonia Delaunay’s work, as well as her work ethic. She emerged as a model for the persistence of genius, bound only by the limits (and advantages) of her times. She came into her own in early 20th century Paris, where she was among the most powerful group of artists in the art capital of the world.
There was no distinction between fine and decorative arts for Sonia. She created environments for living. Paintings did not stand out, shouting “Look at me!” They joined the chorus of color and line on floors, couches, cabinets. A book on a table was a work of art, as was a box or a tablecloth. If you lived in an ugly place, then you were not working hard enough for its transformation. She believed that “the morale of art could be used to defeat the worldwide demoralisation of the time. . . painting and the art of color should influence everything – everyday life, fashion, theatre, stained glass, carpets and books, but also mentalities and spirituality” (Laurence Bertrand Dorleac’s essay, “Confused Origins,” exhibition catalog, page 212).
Hers was an aesthetic made visible; she used materials to make her world a place of beauty. Canvases became invitations to revel in colors that undulated over surfaces. Fabrics were designed and constructed as brave assemblies that announced, “This is what clothing can be!”
Sonia Terk Delaunay said, “Everything is feeling, everything is real. Color brings me joy.” It was a mantra that sustained her. This retrospective and its catalog were the physical manifestation of all that she believed in and practiced for decades.
In my darkest times, can I call myself “artist” and not be revived by her spirit?