“An Interview With Theo Van Doesburg”

When were you born and what kind of upbringing did you have?

I was born on the 30th of August in 1883, in Utrecht, the Netherlands. And I must confess I haven’t always been Theo Van Doesburg. Infant I was born ‘Christian Emil Marie Kupper.’ The reason for changing my name came about because I regarded my stepfather, Theodorus Doesburg to be my natural father, so I started signing my paintings Theo Doesburg, later I added the insertion ‘van.’

How old were you at the start of the Great War (WW1) and what were you doing immediately before the outbreak of war?

I was 31 when war broke out. During this period and slightly before it, I was supporting my works by writing for magazines. And in 1913, having finished reading Kandinsky’s ‘Ruckblicke,’ I realised that there was a higher, more spiritual level in painting, focusing on the mind rather than every day life. “Mondrian realises the importance of line. The line has almost become a work of art in itself; one can not play with it when the representation of objects perceived was all-important. The white canvas is almost solemn. Each superfluous line, each wrongly placed line, any colour placed without veneration or care can spoil everything, that is the spiritual.”

Where were you when the war ended and what were you doing?

Well I must say the war didn’t slow me down, I remained busy during and after. People have described me as being the public leader of the De Stijl group as I am an impulsive and vigorous man with strong likes and dislikes… something like that. Anyway I was in the Netherlands in 1917, working along side my friend Jacobus Oud in his De Vonk project. De Vonk translates to Holiday Park, and was built to be a holiday home for factory girls in 1917-1918 but is currently being used as a day care centre and health centre. Oud designed the architectural components and myself, the decorating and colour of it.

What did you do in the years immediately following the end of the war?

I carried on writing in 1920, and visited Berlin and Weimar in 1921. In ’22 I started teaching at the Bauhaus in Weimar, during this time I became friends with Mies Van Der Rohe and the like.

What are your key interests and how do they influence your artwork?

I suppose my interests were travelling, as thats what I did most of the time. Its difficult to put my ‘interests’ into words as obviously my upmost interests were the expansion of the movement De Stijl. Im also very interested in cows, and have studied them a lot, sometimes being the main subject or my abstract paintings. The fact that I could travel mainly around Europe, and visit new countries kindled relationships I otherwise would not have. I had connections with many well known artists such as; Fernand Leger, Francis Picabia, Joseph Albers, Kandinsky, Klee, Schwitters, Kupka, Lissitzky, and Rodchenko to name just a few.

Who influenced you most in your work as an artist?

I would say Piet Mondrian was most influential to me. The relationship we had was great, even to the point where we would argue over the use of a diagonal line in my paintings, he didn’t like that at all!

What was your greatest achievement before 1935?

Oh, definitely being one of the founding members of the De Stijl movement, it has really given me so many opportunities. And opportunities for many other artist, and the general public I suppose.

Which art movement did you feel most attached to during the 1920’s?

I think we all know the answer to that question don’t we…

If I had dared to speak for all artists of my time that felt they were also most attached to De Stijl during the 20’s I would say that “we speak of concrete and not abstract painting because nothing is more concrete, more real than a line, a colour, a surface.”

What will your legacy be?

I hope to have created a successful movement, which some say is a legacy, something to be remembered by. But also, I hope to of set an example, or at least given an idea of what an artist in any age can live like, create, influence, and leave behind. Even in this difficult time with the war etc, it didn’t slow me down at all. Let nothing get in your way.


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