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And it was during one of those moments of relaxation (7) that I saw clearly, spontaneously, the quidproquo in which I had been struggling for years and which was the reason for my dissatisfaction with the technical means I was using. My compositions remained broken up into fragments and, in spite of certain intuitions which had led me to surround my central theme with a curvature made up of different colours, I was well aware that the unity I longed for had not been realised.

(7) Relaxation from the long philosophical conversations with Louis Hoyack which are reported in our pamphlet Key Words, See note 4 above.

Why? It was in vain that I divided tones, modulated and multiplied nuances, the result was not what I had hoped. I could not understand why. Suddenly, while I was looking at the canvasses still sitting on their easels, my mind still occupied with the points we had just clarified with regard to the key words, a ray of light passed through me. It ricocheted against the canvasses as they were scattered in front of my eyes.

Now I understood, at least in part.

Translation and rotation were certainly the principles which I had evoked to realise my 'painting-objects'. But I had only touched on ROTATION. I wasn't able to see it, so I wasn't able to set it going. For a long time already I had, quite rightly, been aiming at a mobile expression, setting it up in opposition to the classical, immobile expression. This latter had been the necessary consequence of the painted work's having been subordinated to space, in a spirit of subjectivism. In the beginning, this subjectivism had been of a general order, restrained by the system of construction round the principle of perspective limited to a single point of view. But from one age to the next it had become more and more particular until it had ended up in the individualism of the present day, which so many people believe, so presumptuously, is the very reason of the work of art.

I was right, and the rightness of my reasoning was confirmed by the invaluable conquests that had been achieved by those pioneers who, before me, had been able to arrive at some objective notions of translation and rotation - Jean Metzinger and Juan Gris - and also some archetypical examples of the use of colour in the order of the chromatic circle considered formally, as an esemplastic phenomenon in its own right - Robert Delaunay.

I was right when, in 1922, I tried to formulate the principle of translation and rotation - formal principles whose rule corresponds necessarily to our biological nature, answering to the organ in question not just in its passive mode (as is the case with perspective in its relation to sight) but awakening all the creative forces, enabling the seed to develop until it reaches its flowering. But what was now clear to me was that, even though I had certainly been aiming at rotation, which would have realised a true plastic mobility, drawing the eye along in its movement, all I had done so far had been to indicate two opposed phases of this movement. I was still confined to immobility.

Despite the modulations I had used, following the suggestions given by the colours in the rainbow, the movement did not emerge in a clear, unquestionable manner. There was something fundamental that was missing, and I was now able to have a glimpse of what it was. It was movement itself, in which the modulated interweaving of the colours would be able to come to a conclusion.

This movement is the rhythm of the painting, expressed by a linear arabesque that reveals its form. It is this form which was charged with the task of unifying all the organic fragments which, by themselves, were no more than the promise of unity.



At last I had understood. 'How', I said to myself, 'did I dare ask Hoyack to clarify the meaning of the words he used? I pride myself on not acting with regard to them like an intellectual without hands, on always trying to see as an object what I have in my mind, and here I have the proof that for years I have been just as incapable as him or any other intellectual of realising concretely what I have as an idea. I spoke about rotation without being able to do it and its only now that I have come to see it.'

So I armed myself with, in the one hand, a paintbrush and, in the other, a cloth soaked in turpentine so that I could quickly correct and wipe out my errors. I made a mixture of white and black, giving me a grey of a certain intensity which corresponded to the general tonality of the canvas that lay before me. And, using this tone by itself, I placed on top of the coloured composition, an arabesque, the simplest I could, which, in a single line, expressed all the intentions that had been implicit in the comings and goings I had evoked in the painting. I stepped back. This time I had realised the rotation I had been talking about for so long, of which I had had an accurate intuition, which I wanted to show but which I could never reach. The result was undeniable.

The composition which had, until then, been inert, waiting, was shaken up and the colours called out to each other and replied.

The unity was affirmed. It was easy to understand how. The overall construction [dessin] was emphasised through the combinations of grey curved lines. These grey lines - I insist, a grey obtained through a mixture of black and white and, consequently, not at all coloured - were like luminous resonators on which the colours sang in their complementaries rendered softer and more gentle. As the order of my colours, more or less modulated, had, once they parted from the central colour harmony, respected the order of the chromatic circle, one can understand that the effect of this grey resonator was to waken the eye to the contrast of the complementary. On a red, the grey line assumed a green coloration and everywhere the grey line passed the same phenomenon took place.

Archive photo from 1934 showing painting (CR 1400) before and after the addition of the grey arabesques

In the way I had arranged my colours, a red, or a collection of reds, could be found on one side of the canvas, a green, or a combination of greens, on the other. Between them, from top to bottom, the intermediary chromatic successions were divided. So that, on the colours grouped round red, the resonator sang green, and on the colours grouped round green, the resonator sang red. And everywhere the contrast evoked, in opposition to the colour, a subtle nuance which overthrew the too great dominance of the old intensities and created a collaboration between them that was a true symphony. Thus unity was restored on a basis of plurality and movement.

Albert Gleizes: Brown and Green Spiral 1934 (1932–3)
Oil on canvas, 168 x 78 cm
CR 1424


You can imagine the joy I felt at having finally brought this rotation to its natural conclusion, realising it, physically. Looking at the matter closely without any more allowing myself to be deceived by appearances, what I had so far called rotation had only been a displacement of the plane in the direction of rotation. I had not reached the rotating movement I so desperately wanted. In the presentation of what, in 1922, I had called the 'new mechanism', I had proposed the only two principles that can in fact correspond to the creation of the object - translation and rotation. But I had made two important mistakes. The first: I gave the name of 'movement' to what were no more than changes in the magnitude of the plane. That was incorrect. If the plane is changed only in its magnitude, with the new figures remaining parallel to the plane that contains them, then there is no need for movement in the eye. The eye remains centred on itself and so only registers relations of quantity between extensions in space.

Illustration from Painting and Its Laws, p.187 of the English translation.

The second error was even more serious; it had been a stumbling block to me for years. I thought I had resolved the difficulties that had been posed by the principle of rotation when I made the plane of the canvas turn around its axis, to the right and to the left, registering these two modifications of its position. It is true that, instead of seeing it as a simple inclination in either direction, I imagined that, through the intermediary of the eye, my plane had turned completely on its axis, a true rotation, of which, unfortunately, all I had done was to have noted the two extreme positions.

Illustration from Painting and Its Laws, p.189 of the English translation.

That was where the error lay. I was obliged to bow before the Euclidean postulate of the indeformability of figures in movement. I had wanted to realise a plane in movement and I had had to make do with two states of rest in a pivotal movement that was not rotation. I was still immobile. And that is why nothing I had been able to do afterwards to force this immobility to give way to immobility ever managed to reach the end that I was aiming for. The more or less pronounced curvature that enveloped the central theme, the comings and goings of the colouring and the modulations which had evolved, following the rule of the chromatic circle, out of the basic harmony given by this theme ( or by these themes, when I was working with more than one element) - these certainly brought about some improvement. But in no way did they provide the solution.

It was in reducing the directions indicated by the - in themselves - fragmented parts of the composition to a series of concentric circular waves - in affirming this simple circular direction with supple lines of a grey (black and white) tonality that marked the course of the rhythm - it was thus that I finally managed to draw the eye out of its state of torpor. It had now been excited sufficiently to enable it to begin to move and to set out upon the rhythmic paths that had been opened up to it.

That was what it was, this rotation, this succession in time. After I had been talking about it for years without being able to express it, in this month of March 1934, after the dialectical battles I had had with my friend Hoyack with a view to conferring upon words their visual reality, I had at last managed to visualise the word 'rotation'...

Gleizes: Composition with seven elements, 1924-34, oil on canvas, 260x180 cm, Muséé National d'Art Moderne, Paris.
CR 1201