Painted in 1931, Schwebender Druck (Hovering Pressure) is a highly inventive abstract composition executed by Kandinsky during his last years at the Dessau Bauhaus. Comprising a wide range of different colored forms that in many ways both invoke the harsh geometry of his early Dessau paintings of the mid-1920s and also anticipate some of the more fluid and organic shapes that would distinguish the artist's work in the later 1930s, the painting is a strong and surprising exercise in contrasts.
As Kandinsky’s friend and biographer Will Grohmann wrote of the artist’s work during his last years in Dessau, such a play of opposites was a distinct characteristic of this period. Kandinsky, Grohmann wrote, often "obtained his greatest tensions from opposing the geometric elements to the free, and, so to speak, living elements, and by this means, arrived at more comprehensive higher forms…Other essential tensions were obtained by Kandinsky from opposing exact forms both flat and linear to deliberately inexact ones, complete forms to fragmentary forms, main forms to merely ornamental ones, organic amoeba-like elements to elements suggesting technology (serrating forms), static elements to dynamic symbolic forms (cross) to everyday forms (ladder), and so on" (Kandinsky, London, 1959, p. 218).
With its seemingly floating or hovering curved forms contrasted with angular geometric elements more characteristic of the constructivist ethos of the Dessau Bauhaus, Schwebender Druck is a work that has the effect of articulating a dynamic tension and balance between the stark opposites collated on the picture plane. Here, in this work, as in so many of Kandinsky’s paintings, it seems as if the chaotic, organic world of nature and the rational, mathematical and ideal realm of geometry have been miraculously combined and harmoniously resolved.
This almost mystical ideal of the unifying of opposites–an ideal that in fact underpins much of Kandinsky’s work–also reflects polarities that existed within the Bauhaus itself. After Johannes Itten’s departure from the Weimar Bauhaus in 1923 and the subsequent appointment of Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, the Bauhaus had gradually taken a new direction away from its original emphasis on individual, spiritual and largely hand-crafted art towards the creation of more universal, industrially mass-produced and functional products. This tendency to unite art and technology increased with the school’s move to the more industrial city of Dessau in 1925 and there, while many of Bauhaus’ craft workshops were closed (pottery, bookbinding and stained glass among them), new technical departments, such as those teaching architecture and photography, replaced them.
Kandinsky, after completing his theoretical work and writing it up in his extremely dry and long treatise entitled Punkt und Linie zur Fläche (Point and Line to Plane) in 1926, embraced much of this new technically-orientated direction within the school. Working particularly closely alongside his friend and old Blaue Reiter colleague Paul Klee, Kandinsky’s art increasingly adopted the analytical hard-edged geometrical forms of industry and engineering and through them articulated a new intuitive approach to the constructivist aesthetic that then ran throughout much of the European avant-garde.
For Kandinsky, painting was an art that both reflected and gave an insight into the organizing force of nature. To feel the affinity between the elements and laws of the arts was for him to gain an insight into the elements and laws of nature, and vice versa. "The separate and individual laws of those two great realms, nature and art" Kandinsky wrote, "will ultimately shed light on the general laws of the world and its makeup...and reveal the independent operation of both within a higher, synthetic sequence of external and internal" (Wassily Kandinsky, Punkt und Linie zur Fläche, 1926, Bern, 1955, p. 117).
Kandinsky had come into contact with the stark abstract geometry of Constructivism earlier than most European artists during his return to his native Russia between 1916 and 1922. He nevertheless remained fundamentally opposed to the Constructivists’ attempts to suppress all feeling, emotion and intuitive logic in their work. The abandonment of such elements, Kandinsky asserted, reduced their "calculated constructions" to mere "mechanics." As later Dessau paintings of his, such as Schwebender Druck, sought to articulate through the resolution of contrasting and opposing forms, "art is never produced by the head alone...We know of great paintings that came solely from the heart. In general, the ideal balance between the head (conscious moment) and the heart (unconscious moment–intuition) is a law of creation, law as old as humanity" (quoted in "Art Today," in Cahiers d’Art, Paris, 1935, p. 83).
Towards this end, Kandinsky’s painting was always rooted in an intuitive grasp of his media, even at the height of his involvement with the seemingly cold objective and functional principles of the Dessau Bauhaus. It was of paramount importance, Kandinsky insisted, to counterbalance the complex principles of construction and form, that he had painstakingly formulated over several years and finally published in Punkt und Linie zur Fläche, with a spontaneous and intuitive form of creation. Kandinsky therefore often admitted to almost never applying his own theories to the creation of his work. Intuition was what Kandinsky described as the artist’s "inner necessity"; an element without which even the most perfectly constructed picture would be a "dead canvas." The strong contrast in Schwebender Druck between small, angular, geometric forms and vast, unorthodox, bulging balloon-like forms that assert themselves as almost the antithesis of geometry, seems also in this way to express this need for a painting to comprise of both tight, rational and loose, intuitively-arrived-at form and color.