★ “Is it a house?” “Is it a flower?” “What’s it supposed to be?” When an aunt gives Moscow schoolboy Vasily Kandinsky a paint box, no one knows what to make of the wild shapes he creates. He doesn’t just see the colors. He hears them: “blaring crimson… burbling green, clanging orange, and tinkling violet.” Even after he gives up his career teaching law years later and decides to study art, his teachers steer him toward traditional subjects. He resists, and his works become the art world’s first abstract paintings. Rosenstock (Thomas Jefferson Builds a Library) focuses on passages of Kandinsky’s writing that seem to indicate he experienced synesthesia, the neurological phenomenon that blurs the boundaries between the senses, and her prose strikes a balance between lightheartedness and lyricism. GrandPré’s (The Wee Hours) paintings, meanwhile, conjure up an entire epoch, lingering over the candelabras and tasseled drapes of the Kandinskys’ apartment, breathing life into all the characters, and conveying the energy and vitality of the colors Kandinsky hears. Contains an afterword and reproductions of some of Kandinsky’s works. – Publishers Weekly
★ This impressive biography of Vasily Kandinsky highlights the unusual connection between his art and the music that inspired it.
As a young boy in Russia, Vasily—nicknamed Vasya—glumly studies “bookfuls of math, science, and history.” His heavy eyelids droop; he sits “stiff and straight” while adults drone on. Then his aunt gives him a paint box, and everything changes. As Vasya mixes one hue with another, he hears the colors making sounds. “Whisper” is set in a faux handwriting type; “HISS” is also set in a different type from the primary text. Vasya listens as “swirling colors trill…like an orchestra tuning up.” Rosenstock explains the mixing of Vasya’s senses—synesthesia, in contemporary terms—through the shapes he paints: “Crunching crimson squares,” “[w]hispering charcoal lines” and “a powerful navy rectangle that vibrated deeply like the lowest cello strings.” Using acrylic paint and paper collage, Grandpré emphasizes the blending of two arts by showing Vasya’s paintbrush-holding arms aloft as if he were conducting and by letting Vasya’s colors waft upward from his palette, making curlicues in the air, with music staffs and notes interwoven. As Vasya grows up, he faces resistance to his nonrepresentational work, including the repeated interrogation, “What’s it supposed to be?”—but his magnificent, abstract, sound-inspired paintings won’t be repressed.
A rich, accomplished piece about a pioneer in the art world. (author’s note, painting reproductions, sources) – Kirkus Reviews
★ A stirring tribute to a prominent pioneer of abstract art, Paintbox follows the life of Russian-born artist Vasya Kandinsky from his childhood to adulthood, conveying the astounding imagery conjured in the painter’s (probably genetic) condition, synesthesia, which caused sensory fields to collide in explosions that enabled him, for example, to hear colors. In this delightful homage, Rosenstock’s crisp visual language unites with GrandPré’s deeply expressive and whimsical paintings to re-create the intriguing world of art as seen through Kandinsky’s distinct lens. The book offers diverse potential for different types of study, whether one is reading for information or for pleasure. Outstanding.–Kathryn Diman, Bass Harbor Memorial Library, Bernard, ME – School Library Journal
★ Richly colored, large acrylic paint and paper collage pictures illustrate the life of Vasily Kandinsky, one of the first painters of abstract art. As a young boy, Vasya was given a paint box, and when he first mixed colors, he was amazed to find he could hear the colors he created. Throughout his early life, Kandinsky struggled to live as others expected but couldn’t forget his exhilarating experiences with painting. Even after giving in and taking lessons, he was unable to suppress the need to create his own style of art. He would see colors and hear music, hear music and see colors. “Art should make you feel. Like music.” Narrow white frames surround the wonderfully dense illustrations that reveal the sounds the colors make to the artist. The rich word choice is a delight: pistachio, cobalt, and saffron introduce readers to colors while hissing, blaring, and whispering reveal the sounds of the colors. This not a full biography, but rather a revelation of a real and talented person striving to express himself—and succeeding. The author’s note and source list impart more information. This is a beautiful blend of colors, music, and life. – Booklist