painting 'verdichtung zu caput mortuum' (distillation to caput mortuum)
is one of a series of variations, with different expressive qualities
deriving from the combination of colours used in each. The series
was started in 1964. All the pictures are placed on the diagonal -
Bill sometimes called them "pointed pictures".
unusual external format feature alone expresses instability and tension,
compelling the eye to move around. In 'verdichtung zu caput mortuum'
the area in the centre is coloured a dull reddish-brown, or caput
mortuum - the term applied to a residue after distillation or sublimation
in alchemy. Here it acquires a special quality from the external isosceles
triangles and bands of colour, and becomes a surface against which
the yellow-red and bluish-purple colour chords can resonate as they
interact with the reddish-brown.
"unambiguous concision" of the colour forms gives them an inner depth
and stability that contrast with the instability of the pictorial
form. The dead, square nucleus in the earth-colour caput mortuum gains
a life of its own.
Bill, a member of the Swiss 'Zurich Concrete' group, was an architect,
painter, sculptor, politician, educationalist, writer, in short, a
'universal creator'. He analysed the principles of Concrete Art and
sharpened Theo van Doesberg's definition as follows:
call those works of art concrete that came into being on the basis
of their inherent resources and rules - without external borrowing
from natural phenomena, without transforming those phenomena, in other
words: not by abstraction. concrete art is independent in its characteristic
features. it is the expression of the human spirit, intended for the
human spirit, and it should have the sharpness, the clarity and the
perfection that must be expected from the human spirit. concrete painting
and sculpture imply creating something that is open to visual perception.
their creative resources are colours, space, light and movement …
concrete art is ultimately the pure expression of harmonious measure
and law. it orders systems and uses artistic resources to give life
to these orders … it strives for universality and yet it cultivates
uniqueness. it suppresses things individualistic in favour of the
individual." Bill also requires that art should find a mathematical
mode of thought to guarantee that the creative principles can be controlled.
In the mean time he sees this as only one of the possible methods,
"a useful aid, through which ideas can acquire visible form."
Born in Winterthur, died 1994 in Berlin. ·
1924-27 Kunsgewerbeschule Zürich, apprenticed as a silversmith.
1927-29 Studies at the Bauhaus in Dessau, under teachers including
Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee and Oskar Schlemmer.
From 1930 back in Zurich.
Member of 'abstraction-création'. ·
1950 Co-founder of the Hochschule für Gestaltung in Ulm, plans the
curriculum and the buildings, first rector. ·
1956 Resigns from his posts in the Hochschule für Gestaltung in Ulm.
1967-71 Member of the Swiss National Council. ·
1967-74 Professor at the Staatliche Hochschule für Bildende Künste
in Hamburg, chair of environmental design. ·
1972 Associate, from 1976 full, member of the Berlin Academy of Arts.
1973 Associate member of the Royal Flemish Academy of Science, Literature
and Fine Art, Brussels.