Theo van Doesburg began his career as a self-taught artist. His early landscapes and portraits, painted prior to 1915, manifest the influence of German Expressionism, and first and foremost Wassily Kandinsky. Since his youth, he was engaged in theoretical questions related to painting, and he planned the launch of an art journal already in the mid-1910s. He finally published the periodical, De Stijl, in November 1917 with his like-minded friends, Piet Mondrian, Bart van der Leck and the Hungarian Vilmos Huszár, which continued to exist thanks to Doesburg's active organisational and editorial work, all the way up till the artist's death in 1931. The artists grouped around De Stijl rejected natural depiction, and they held the architectonic abstract mode of composition, defined by horizontals and verticals, the only true path of painting. They saw the manifestation of "absolute harmony" in pure geometrical forms, the model for a new world to come. At the same time, they were interested in the potential for the application of painting in industrial art, as well as the notion of integrating painting and architecture. Doesburg's 1919 Archer is a characteristic representative of the De Stijl principles. The vertically stressed figure of the archer defines the composition, and is built up from blue and black triangular, rectangular and pentagonal planes. The forces necessary to draw the arrow are concentrated at a single point: at the point of intersection of the verticality of the body and the horizontality of the stretched arm, and the transversals of the bow also run to this point. The dynamic implicit in this motion is heightened by the diagonality of the leg planted backwards. The form of the blue field encompassing the "HEKA" caption provides another diagonal emphasis. Doesburg's advertising design follows the simple, clarified method of the new typography, which characterised the typographic work of Russian Constructivists just as much as the publications of the Bauhaus in the twenties, or the periodical, De Stijl. The motif of the archer appeared for the first time in a pen and ink drawing of more natural attitude in 1917. Doesburg most probably developed this further in his designs prepared for labels for cheese of the company Klaverweide en Zoon in 1919, in which the figure of the archer already appeared in a form identical to this. In a letter written to J. J. Pieter Oud in December 1919, Doesburg makes mention of his designs for the profile of Hagemeyer & Co. Among these might be included the Archer, which was presumably planned as a poster design. Doesburg employed the composition for a box design also; here it appears four times, each time turned ninety degrees from the preceding. Similar compositional solutions to the poster design can be observed in the window designs prepared for the Drachten Agricultural School in 1921. In a 1920 letter to C. de Boer, it is revealed that Doesburg would have liked to apply the archer motif here, too, but it finally was not to be. Among the scenes depicting agricultural work, executed in 1922, the figure of the Sower may be interpreted as a compositional version citing the posture of the Archer.
Text: © MÓNIKA KUMIN