April 30, 2007

Xul Solar

Portrait of Xul Solar by an unknown photographer.Xul Solar (1887-1963) was an Argentine painter, sculptor, writer, and inventor; a visionary utopian; an occultist and astrologer who yet remained catholic; an accomplished musician who was fluent in seven languages, two of which were of his own devising; and a minor character in Borges’s Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius. The following images are scans from the catalogue Xul Solar: Visiones y revelaciones, which was published in 2005 to coincide with a major exhibition of his work, staged in Buenos Aires, São Paulo, Mexico City and Houston.

'Palacios en Bría,' watercolour by Xul Solar, 1932.


'Visión en fin al Camino,' watercolour by Xul Solar, 1934.

Xul’s preferred medium was watercolour, although he also sometimes painted with tempera. Kandinsky and Marc’s Der Blaue Reiter almanac was a powerful early influence on his work, and his mature style is somewhat reminiscent of Paul Klee’s. ‘There are paintings of alternative universes, cities floating in the sky or on lakes, creatures that are half man and half airplane, angels, pyramids and whatever else came to him in his reveries’ (source)

'Vuell villa,' watercolour by Xul Solar, 1936.


'Ciudá lagui,' watercolour by Xul Solar, 1939.

Xul was driven by a restless zeal for revision and reform: considering the Spanish language to be ‘several centuries out of date,’ and moreover, ‘a cacophonous language composed of words that were overly long,’ he developed Neo-Criollo (Neo-Creole), whose vocabulary was mostly drawn from Spanish and Portuguese, but which also incorporated elements of French, English, Greek and Sanskrit. He composed texts and even conversed in this invented tongue which, however, was continually changing, with each successive elaboration of it being different than the one before.

Ciudá y abismos' tempera and watercolour by Xul Solar, 1946.


Desarrollo de Yi Ching,' tempera on paper by Xul Solar, 1953.

The most important works in Neo-criollo are the San Signos (Holy Signs), a collection of sixty-four visionary texts based on the hexagrams of the I Ching. These texts were written at the request of Aleister Crowley, after a series of meetings between the two men in Paris in 1924. In a letter he wrote to Xul five years later, Crowley reminded him that ‘you owe me a complete set of visions for the 64 Yi symbols’ and added ‘your record as the best seer I ever tested still stands today.’ Although Xul had completed a first version of the San Signos by 1930, only a few short excerpts from them were ever published.

'Zodiaco,' watercolour by Xul Solar, 1953.


Pan-tree (front),' mixed media with watercolour by Xul Solar, 1952. Pan-tree (back),' mixed media with watercolour by Xul Solar, 1952.

In the ’40s, Xul devised a second, even more ambitious language-project: Pan-lengua, a proposed universal idiom with numeralogical and astrological underpinnings, utilising an invented script and a duodecimal number-system, whose entire lexicon could be expressed on the board of Panajedrez (Pan-chess), a game meant to be played on a 13x13 board, but which, according to Xul’s friend Jorge Luis Borges, was impossible to learn, owing to frequent and confusing amendments of its rules.

'Proyecto Fachada Delta (#1),' watercolour by Xul Solar, 1954.


'Proyecto Fachada Delta (#2),' watercolour by Xul Solar, 1954.

Aside from language reform, Xul conceived architectural projects, proposed changes to musical notation, and rebuilt musical instruments after his own idiosyncratic design. His need to remake and ‘improve’ extended beyond the artistic & intellectual. ‘With ingenuity and a sense of humor, […] he proposed changes in football: “Why play with one only ball, and not with three or four, and divide the field into six or twelve parallel sectors, like in rugby, and that each player wear a shirt with different letters so that words and phrases are formed?”’

'Muy Mago,' (portrait of Aleister Crowley); tempera painting by Xul Solar, 1961.


'San Ignatius,' tempera painting by Xul Solar, 1961.


Posted by misteraitch at April 30, 2007 03:33 PM

While I can’t say that I like any of his paintings, I find this kind of everythingologist utterly charming. Unlike most reformers of worlds, this gentleman seemed to have a sense of humour about such futile enterprises. Xul’s proposal for football shows his anarchic bent: who’s the winner in such a game? It’s the sort of reform that could reconcile me with sports…
As an amateur instrument builder myself, I’d be curious to hear Xul’s harmonium at work. At first glance, it looks like one of those doomed experiments in sound-colour correspondence. By the way, those who are interested in a complete reinvention of music (from theory to the material means of performance) could do worse than watching this BBC documentary on American composer Harry Partch on Youtube.

Posted by: Michelangelo on April 30, 2007 07:59 PM

While I can say I do like Solar's images, so finely displayed, they reminded me a little of Victor Brauner's stuff, some of it, also objects of my affection.

Posted by: roy belmont on May 1, 2007 09:27 PM

I think the idea behind the multicolored key harmonium was more of an artistic synesthesia experiment than just a simple sound-color match. He also altered a piano.

I've been to the Xul Solar Museum in Buenos Aires and thoroughly recommend it! It's a beautiful building and they've got an extensive painting collection, objects, toys, musical instruments and a small library.

And thanks to this post I felt the sudden urge to go dig for my museum catalog. I know it's somewhere....

Posted by: claudia on May 1, 2007 10:02 PM

A fun guy and incredible art. Thank you for this post.

Posted by: Mike on May 1, 2007 11:43 PM

Man, your blog kicks ass. Great stuff!

Posted by: Slynx on May 2, 2007 02:42 AM

His house in Buenos Aires, now transformed in museum is amazing... you feel as if you were in one of his paintings.

Posted by: niko on May 4, 2007 08:03 PM

Didn't you do this guy before? It had quite a nice story attached to it last time.

The football proposals remind me of Asger Jorn's idea of three-sided soccer.

Posted by: Conrad on May 6, 2007 07:08 AM

Conrad—I mentioned him before, but only in passing.

Niko, Claudia—if I ever get to travel to Buenos Aires, I shall certainly pay the museum a visit.

Slynx—thank you!

Roy—I’d never even heard of Brauner: thanks for the links.

Michelangelo—oddly enough I just recently read a book about the history of correspondences between painting and music, which mentioned Castel and Rimington, among others.

Posted by: misteraitch on May 6, 2007 08:08 AM

I had the same feeling as Conrad that you had written at greater length on Solar before, I guess that I must have followed the link you provided in your last mention to the Musuem


, it's well worth traversing.

once again, thanks for a lovely post.

Posted by: paulm on May 7, 2007 08:44 PM

and I now return shamfaced to admit I've just realised you provided another link this time to the English version of the Museum's website!

Posted by: paulm on May 7, 2007 08:47 PM

Great post! I love Xul Solar's paintings. Unfortunately, reproductions just don't convey the wonderful colors of his images. And I must agree with the other comments about the Xul Solar's museum. It's one of the great places to visit in Buenos Aires.

And this is my first visit to your blog, which is really quite fascinating. Count me as a regular reader from now on.

Posted by: Jeff on May 9, 2007 08:41 PM

Xul He was amazing, from what I was able to read: an inventor of worlds, languages, sounds: the synesthesia theory sounds interesting.

He was an artist reinventing the world.

Posted by: Camilo on May 10, 2007 02:07 AM

Just wondering if you saw this?


Posted by: Lanny on May 10, 2007 09:14 PM

Thanks Mr.H., I did not know about That Divine Order. I should like to read it since it discusses the special status of music among the various forms of human expression—something I have often wondered about as a dabbler in both music and visual art. Interestingly, that debate is still alive, even though it has been updated to the orthodoxies of the day.

Posted by: Michelangelo on May 11, 2007 05:45 PM

Michelangelo—I could send you my copy if you’d like: although it’s certainly an interesting subject, I wasn’t much taken with Prof. Vergo’s treatment of it, and would hesitate to recommend the book.

Lanny—I’d read mention of the rivista but had not seen that site: thanks for the link.

Posted by: misteraitch on May 14, 2007 11:57 AM

Yes,your blog realy kicks ass. Great stuff!

Posted by: on May 14, 2007 05:50 PM

Hi everybody!!
I'm from Buenos Aires, and so proud you all are interested on Xul Solar's work. He was a genius, always trying to change what was understood as being unchangeable!

Posted by: Mercedes on May 30, 2007 04:58 AM
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