PAINTING OUT OF THE COLOUR
with Gerard and Elisabeth Wagner
‘Anthroposophy and Painting’
with 17 Artists Andreas Maeckle
Taschenbuecher Bd, 252
translation by Katherine Rudolph)
Wagner-Koch, born in 1923 in Gut Wickerhausen, Solling, Germany,
Abitur 1942 – 1943 – 1950. Study and work as a Sculptor,
Exhibitions and prize in youth competition, 1950 – 1955 Painting
Training with Gerard Wagner in Dornach Switzerland, 1956 Training
in Eurythmy and Curative Eurythmy, since 1960 together with Gerard
Wagner, establishing and directing the Goetheanum Painting School,
teacher at the Rudolf Steiner teacher training in Dornach. 1960 –
Wagner, born in Wiesbaden, educated in England 1924 – 1926, Study
of Painting in St. Ives, and at the Royal Academy of Art in London,
from whence his path led on to Dornach. There he met the spiritual
and artistic work of Rudolf Steiner, which fructified all his
further creative work. The quest for an ‘objective’ life of colour,
out of its relation to nature, man and the cosmos became his life’s
work. This quest is the basic motive for the content and range of
his unusual paintings.
Seeking for answers, the painter built up a methodical
‘instrumentality’ for a goal-oriented experimentation in the realm
of colour. It was to this depth of study that the artist dedicated
himself to being the ‘servant of colour’. His extraordinary work
shows how artistic phantasy can unite in true freedom with the
scientific method, when selfless devotion to the being of colour
lives in the soul. This artistic impulse for knowledge fired his
untiring creative strength.
‘Learning is always the only grounds for
During my education in the Waldorf School, we usually made
jokes openly or in secret about Rudolf Steiner’s painting. It
seemed too awkward, far from everything that modern painting had to
offer. This seemed to occur whether it concerned the sketches for
the Cupula painting in the First Goetheanum, sketches for the
Friedwart School, or even the training sketches for painters, which
carried such titles as ‘Sunrise’, ‘Sunset’ etc. Our juvenile
mentality didn’t give those unpretentious pictures much of a
chance. Today, more than sixty years after their origin, it
has become increasingly clear that the painting of Rudolf Steiner
has become a fruitful progressive impulse.
Certainly when one first meets these apparently rough drawn
pictures, their unpretentious appearance might indeed seem strange.
Only after years of research, comes an intimation of
how colour itself has created form, thereby manifesting
the formative forces. However, such an understanding can only grow
out of a systematic study, which is built on a training made out of
first hand experience. On the strength of which the living being of
the colour world can be grasped. Then these remarkable sketches
become the seeds for a new dimension in the evolution of painting,
a new birth for the Art of Colour.
Maria Strakosch- Giesler (1877-1971) belonged to those who
first acted upon Steiner’s ideas in the field of painting and
worked to develop the new impulse. She had studied in Kandinsky’s
Painting School, ‘Phalanx’ from 1903-1906 and introduced Kandinski
to Steiner. Later she grounded the Painting School for Rudolf
Steiner’s Theory of Colour. (Stuttgart 1920-1938).
It belongs to the symptomatology of our century, that is the
same years in which Rudolf Steiner gave his impulses for cultural
regeneration, which culminated in the building of the First
Goetheanum; that the ‘Bauhaus’ was also founded. Two opposite poles
of world-view. The burning of the First Goetheanum and the early
death of Rudolf Steiner prevented this artistic renewal from
developing as it might have. His students were confronted with the
earliest strivings. They needed to painstakingly prepare the way to
methodically build up their instrumentality in order to make
fruitful the many indications that Rudolf Steiner had given.
Because the impulses he brought are entirely new, one can
understand the apparently dilettantish strivings of the ‘so called
Anthroposophical’ artists, who sought to follow such paths. They
were seeking to discover the harmony between the world of nature
and the world of colour and form, and their inherent unity
in a higher sphere. From this point of view modern artistic
striving can be seen as neither abstract nor naturalistic. No one
who has embarked on this path would be considered to have
progressed beyond the very first beginnings.
Another important painter, next to Maria Strakosch-Giesler
who carried the Steiner impulse was Henni Geck (1884- 1951). Herr
Wagner was one of those who experienced her instruction. To my
knowledge, Steiner’s sketches and watercolours were first of all
Miss Geck had received a sequence of simple training motifs
to be used as basic instructions for her students. These were
generally called the ‘Sketches’. Unfortunately, I could only take
part in her teaching for three-quarters of a year. Although we had
to pay the minutest attention to the relationship between colour
and form, it was by no means copying in the usual sense. In this
short time, I had painted only the first three motifs: ‘Sunrise’,
‘Sunset’, and ‘Shining Moon’. Through careful contemplation and
perceptive feeling of colour, lines and forms in these originals,
something happened within me. An intense interest awakened, which
could be expressed by the words, ‘these are indeed organisms’. One
experienced something in these creative forms, about which one had
to say,’ they are exact’ – that is, no accidental or arbitrary
formations. They are not made in the likeness of any natural
object, but the particular parts of their form and movement are at
the same time adapted to one another, They carry and determine one
another to a degree as otherwise experienced only in the limbs of a
living organism, where every detail is connected with the whole in
a necessary relationship; they ‘live’, so to speak. This perception
was something, which would remain, and, gradually, decade after
decade become more and more conscious.
Did you then pursue this work on the sketch motifs?
Yes, to this very day. These so called ‘Sketches’… I see
them as something like archetypal pictures, stand- points to which
one can always come back again. For the painter, they are
themselves a quest, an intense inner artistic process involving the
being of colour and its relationship to form. What came into being
often barely resembled the picture-forming of Rudolf Steiner –
however it was important to me, that whatever I painted should
begin to exist artistically in its own right. How to choose and
experience the colours in order to approach Rudolf Steiner’s
results has always been my question.
One might suppose that in this way a dependency on the
original sketch would ensue. But in fact it is absolutely the
opposite. In so far as one follows one’s own perception of lawful
progression in the colour world, even if the result looks a lot
different than the original, it has its own validity and free
independence. For colour experience must become stronger than the
power of the mental image and must be able to supersede the latter.
Then it leads us into the realm of living moving colour, out of
which the original motifs are in a process of becoming anew.
As an art historian, I am no painter. I see colours -
coloured paintings. I can perceive the changing effects, as well as
learn to analyse and describe to a certain extent, what I can
already think and sense about them. But in anthroposophical schools
like your Goetheanum Painting School, if I understand correctly, a
mystical life of colour is the theme.
This word could cause misunderstandings. The human soul can
sense and improve its own colour perception by artistic
experimenting. What is colour? Not only the visual colour, but also
gradually, the inner colour perception, that can be finally
perceived to exist independently of the outer substance.
A suprasensible, cosmic reality of colour being?
Such a colour life is not immediately present. It can take
years until one once has the feeling that a colour experience has
emerged into life itself. It must become possible to call on this
colour experience as one likes. In so far as one is led into
the life element through colour perception, one comes into the
realms that nature has created in an ever-present spirit nature.
Thus the training of colour experience proves to be a preparation
for a natural science according to the spirit.
- Maeckler: An organological
world picture : How do you carry it over into art, the ‘second
world of nature’?
That is the great question for the painter, who, in his way
and in his field - is searching for an ‘Art of the Organic World’.
The same question comes about when we arrive at the motif out
The fact that worthy answers are experienced for the first
time in the indications of Rudolf Steiner, becomes apparent to
those who earnestly experiment in order to learn about them. How do
the processes lead to results such as ‘Sunrise’ and “Sunset’,
‘Moonrise’ and ‘Moonset’, ‘Madonna’ and ‘Easter’, ‘Archetypal
Plant’ and Archetypal Animal’? No matter how long one continues to
work with these indications, there remains endless potential for
The indications are not like ‘pictures’ in the usual sense.
That stands to reason, for all of the motifs have been given as
‘sketches’ for a course of study – a training path for painters. We
have been working with them from forty to sixty years all together.
They lie at the basis of the training we are seeking – to meditate
as a beginning step.
I can understand the paradox. However, it begins to open up
a key question: Is it possible to raise the argument against this
or any other such training, that the mark of individuality, the
personal artistic freedom is negated in the end, displaced in
favour of producing something?
The feeling of absolute freedom – Naturally it belongs today
to the deepest contentions of the modern human being who has
discovered his creativity. How does the individual use it?
Can any ‘freedom’, in research or teaching, in science or art, rest
on ‘arbitrary production’? How shall the conscience of our times,
to which research and theory mean so much, find its necessary
artistic expression? An amoral scientific research has invented the
possible destruction of earth and mankind. No artistic endeavour
can develop further, which does not find its nourishment in
spiritual wellsprings. To seek for these wellsprings is a free deed
of the creative striving artist.
Doesn’t art have a priority: the task of being a mirror
expression of its times? Does painting even have the occasion or
possibility to lead back to the origin? All that which German
idealism has clothed in age – old metaphors as ‘language of the
soul of man’; isn’t that long since over and done with, when
measured against the turbulent, paradoxical working practice in the
artistic realm of today?
From out of this new approach of the active
artistic and art appreciative soul, this ‘language’ will be able to
be newly regenerated. To that end, colour itself can take the lead,
for it in its totality already builds the bridges between the human
soul and the world and nature of spirit. In the quiet of the
practice of painting does the path open up, not out of traditions,
out of any sort of old order of standards that have been passed
No, out of the chaos of the degenerating culture of the year
2000, does the human being in his soul awakening to the ‘I am’ in
freedom come to grips with a new spiritual law.
Our whole feeling of modern life, our conception of ‘truth’
and ’beauty’, our inner connection to nature and man, our
relationship to the spiritual in our world, - are held in
constant transformation. Never have artistic styles changed so
often as today, following the ‘isms’ of one or the other, and, as
quickly disappearing. The art of this century is the expression of
all the rules and regulations of the liberating of the individual,
an expression of the battle for the identity of the image of
mankind and the world at the beginning of the third year thousand.
We live in a time of space age investigations, of the almost total
domination of calculable natural forces of the laws of life itself.
Now, indeed, has the point in times arrived where adequate
new questions about the realm of art must now be posed…
The ‘laws’ that are being sought here are not of the outer
order. They are the same ones, which are perceptible in the living
organism of nature and mankind. One may think of a blade of grass,
its form passes on, but the laws, after which, it is created are of
A task for research in the realm of painting?
It is a quest for the forming forces, which are active in
connection to nature. The changing play of growth and decay,
morning and evening, summer and winter… life and death – are
utterances of rhythm carrying wisdom, which is also actively
creative in the world of colour. In a similar way that ‘mother
nature’ in her masterful, inexhaustible, true phantasy evolves and
transforms in the realm of human beings, and animal; is there
not also a mysterious order of living, artistic lawfulness, which
creates its diverse stability out of the ‘free space of
If we want to lay hold of these living, metamorphosing,
forming forces, in an artistic way, we need a new ’quality of
learning’. Colour has itself such an independent life to consider,
that we can learn something about the world from it as a new point
of investigation. It is a question of understanding the nature of
balance, not as a condition (static), but as a process (life).
In addition, the creative individuality of the artist must
be trained and educated to be able to unfold freely – that is
unhampered by picture images’ from nature and free from arbitrary
subjectivity. The individual, personal independence of the striving
artist can develop more freely from the basis of such methodical
That implies, however, that one must first of all be
prepared, dedicated to put such a meditative path into practice. I
can imagine that a rational, materialistic critic would as close to
this as would his non-painting contemporaries. If we turn aside
from those who want to know absolutely nothing about it... might
you again go through the whole anthroposophical path of training,
step by step, from colour to colour, and form to form in the way
that you understand it?
Without paper and colour, that is actually impossible! -
Impossible as well to say it with only a few words. Therefore we
should like to refer you once again to our publication in which
there are colour representations of the visual instructions. (see
notes 4-8). It is an extremely subtle theme in any case, because
one must be quite prepared to enter into a process open-mindedly,
and making no judgements while keenly perceiving and living into
it. It is precisely concerning this point that one finds the most
diverse points of view amongst artists. – Because it goes without
saying that each one forges his own individual path, which makes
his own personal quest a reality. The tasks, which Rudolf Steiner
sets for us are so all encompassing, that generations of artists
will be able to work on them.
But is the principally fine layering of aquarelle in the
painting practice of Anthroposophy not somewhat one-sided, compared
to the large amount of artistic colour materials and techniques
That is a misconception, which arises out of the fact that
the large ‘room to play’ offered by this technique is rarely made
use of . To the contrary, our experience has shown that one finds
the greatest and most many-sided potential expression in aquarelle
This is particularly true for plant colour, which presents a
completely new colour forming experience. He who is able to master
the technical difficulties does not wish to return to other
techniques. At the very least, it is the technique adequate for our
work; it allows the essential inner being of colours to speak
‘Painting out of the colour’ lays claim to the attribute of
a new kind of creativity, in that it has a unique occult sense. It
is not only that the colours are used as a matter of course to
bring a motif to expression; might they not be a language, which is
to be listened to?
Whoever tries to tread this path can come to the certainty,
that the indications of Rudolf Steiner, when they are sufficiently
penetrated, can lead to understanding and shaping forms arising out
of the forces inherent in colour, thus causing form in a life
element without damaging it. In that Rudolf Steiner has given us
these picture-images arising out of life forming in colour, he has
set the goals for the far future of painting.
Since early Romanticism ha s the image of the autonomy of
colour as well as its systematic research been met again and again.
By this time it has been emancipated. Since Impressionism in Paris,
it has been the fashion of the avant-garde to create out of the
colour. ‘Colour for colours sake’ – was the way Robert Deaunay had transformed the famous
expression ’Art for art’s sake by Victor Cousin 1836. Can this now
mean something more?
Yes, the question was posed at that time. There were the
first steps for freeing the colour from objects. The great task for
the spiritual task of art inspired the artist at the beginning of
the twentieth century. Rudolf Steiner grasps this question at the
root. He not only frees colour from the object. There they would
have to lose themselves in the non-being of abstractions. He
carries them back to their origin, the evolutionary stream of the
evolving cosmic earth. There the elementary substance is forming
out of which transformed materiality is built. That is also in
reality, the mystery of the relationship between colour and form,
which entails the enigma that colour can become the medium, which
can lead us into the world of the living. We no longer stand
opposite nature in order to imitate it, reject it and
dismember it. We may learn how to live in its forces and to
accompany these forces artistically in order to allow a ‘new nature
to arise, which, as Goethe says – would be viable even if it
doesn’t actually exist as such.
May this individual learning also be understood as
experimenting with colour with its movements and possible
combinations/ Mr. Wagner, for decades you have been developing your
style. Of coming to motifs in the painting, which arise out of the
pure lasured ground colour. Finally you begin with the purpose of
metamorphosis out of the realms of the human and the animal.
Those are the most interesting questions; they serve to
objectify one’s own perceptions. Also: One seeks foremost the
‘question’ which is formulated as ‘the colour path’. There is no
content of picture image, rather the absolute, most alert interest
for that which will result as the painting proceeds. It’s
accompanied by simultaneous observation of the activity. There s
the question, really, the kind of experimentation in the realm of
feelings and sense perception, which in the presence of enough
comparison and repetition, can lead to colour statements of a
provable nature through exact procedure.
Even painting and altering any ‘one’ beginning colour in its
movement through different colour backgrounds, we would long be
occupied. It would lead us to the most surprising results, as
single motifs become visible through the transitions and
relationships. When we go about with the right ‘research
principles’, such experimentation in the world of colour, not only
allows for continuous progression, but is also of the greatest
interest, indeed, exiting! No one should become discouraged if he
doesn’t experience much for a long time. We know, of course, that
we must first build the organs that bring these experiences to
consciousness. And, really, not only are patience and perseverance
part of the process; one always strives to begin again from
I understand that you associate colour with a kind of ‘law
unto itself. Would you like to explain some of how colour
transforms in a process, which leads to the finished motif.
The ‘experiments’ with colour, which for decades had been
carried through with more and more consistency, gradually took on
more distinct forms. They lead to rows of metamorphoses, which
represent an attempt to come to ‘knowledge about painting’ through
the methodical process. Generally most of my paintings can be
placed in this sort of experimenting, because they were painted
above all to establish the relationship between colour and form.
The thought of painting paintings, which would be possibly
exhibited or sold, then appeared quite remote. The process of
painting itself, to immerse oneself ever and again in the
mysterious proceedings of holding and carrying colour in a floating
balance has always been my interest. There shouldn’t be any
distinct, readily made ‘motif’ arbitrarily set. The ‘motif however
appears gradually through more exacting insights into the ’right’
following of colour-sequence, in which lies the basis of motif-
How do you mean that?
That is a musical time problem. That which we call ‘colour
sequence’ is a path of colours by which, as if out of an underlying
inner connection, a certain motif necessarily follows. Yellow,
blue, red is another motif than blue, red, yellow. We strive above
all to bring each single colour out of such a sequence to a
harmonious state of balance, before we place the following one. The
whole proceeding is a highly living process, and the actual
training consists of learning to live consciously in this process.
If this succeeds, the resulting feeling is that of absolute
freedom, which desires no more.
A new conception of ‘freedom’?
It is not a conception – it si an inner way of conducting
oneself. Perhaps one could describe it in this way: To direct the
strength of the active will (that which is called for by the thing
in itself) in order to make it serve a higher order from out of an
inner decision. The personal wish for artistic taste or
extraordinary ideas no longer plays a role. It is the opposite, in
a remarkable way. We can only begin to feel free when a selfless
state has prevailed, where we are free from the personal and the
arbitrary. The meaning of personal artistic activity as a way for
the individual to understand himself, and how he belongs to the
social structure of a life organism is one of our currant quests in
a modern world. We also seek to understand how to live together
with nature and our responsibility to the environment. Look at the
social problems of our time, the lack of mutual understanding
between people, the phenomenon of terrorism and the destruction of
nature. Consider what Art is metaphorically trying to communicate
in this century…Much of this shows shocking implications. What is
the cause in reality? Where does one find the effect? …
The global ‘loss of consciousness’ makes every thinking,
feeling human being ask such questions in an attempt to change his
whole ‘way of being’ and to prevent human abilities from being
‘sold out’ to the thinking, writing, music making machines. Perhaps
the time has come today when we must learn to re-evaluate our
thoughts – not only in the fields of economy, armaments,
environmental protection, law, medicine, human education, and so
forth. Perhaps we must find the courage to make the first steps in
searching for new paths in the evolution of architecture,
sculpture, painting and the other arts of our time. From a ‘moral
experience of the colour world’ to the experiencing of the colours
themselves does our path direct us.
And its goals?
Here the question becomes finding access once again to the
cosmic life forces. The responsibility towards life must bring
about a uniting of science and art in order to permeate both with a
new feeling of religious perception. This question of our spiritual
task will accompany us into the next thousand years.
© Copyright 2012 Katherine
Rudolph Exploring The Word In Colour And Speech