Frantisek Kupka was a remarkable painter, born in Bohemia in 1871, who created some of the strangest and most experimental paintings seen in Europe during his long lifetime.
After training as an artist as a young man in Prague, he moved to Vienna when he was 20, and then on to London, Scandinavia and Paris where he continued studying and painting. Absorbing the myriad styles and techniques he was exposed to on his travels, as well as incorporating his fascination with folk art and philosophy, Kupka’s early work was mainly literal and figurative, although the subject matter was often loaded with mysticism and symbolism. Some of these images such as 'The Black Idol' (above) still have a sinister power to them.
In Paris in the early 1900s he was introduced into a circle of artists including Duchamp, Léger and Picabia who spent as much of their time discussing art and ideas as they did creating work. Through these discussions Kupka became increasingly convinced that colour itself could provoke intense feelings in a way similar to music, and his painting become more vivid, experimental and abstract. In fact he produced what were, at that time, some of the first non-representational paintings by a European artist, and became a key figure in the Orphism movement, which led the way from Cubism to Abstraction.
The evolution in Kupka’s style is illustrated nicely by comparing two paintings, both of the same subject – his daughter. The 1908 painting ‘Girl With A Ball’ is a recognizable representation (albeit with slightly sickly colours) of a young girl, whilst ‘Amorpha, Fugue In Two Colours II' of 1911 takes the same figure into total abstraction, and becomes a kinetic blur of curving forms and colour.
As Kupka continued his journey into abstraction, he created some really striking, powerful paintings which verge on the hallucinatory, like the 'Reminiscence of A Cathedral' or 'Graphic Motif' paintings. In 1931 he co-founded the group 'Abstraction-Création' group with, amongst others Hans Arp and Jean Hélion, who sought to counteract the increasing influence of the Surrealist movement. He continued painting almost up until his death in 1957, and left behind a large and unique body of work.