Ray­mond Jon­son,

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a later span of Jon­son’s pro­duc­tion: his se­ries, pro­duced from the mid-1930s un­til 1965. “The defin­ing char­ac­ter­is­tic of the se­ries,” Ware writes, “was its pre­sen­ta­tion of pure form, line, and color to evoke mu­si­cal sen­sa­tions. More ex­pressly, Jon­son in­tended to ref­er­ence atonal mu­sic in this se­ries, specif­i­cally plac­ing an em­pha­sis on dis­so­nance to con­trol what he viewed as the nat­u­ral ten­dency of col­ors to be har­mo­nious.” He quotes Jon­son: “In these I have thought of a kind of dis­so­nance in color play­ing a part in the com­po­si­tion. [It is a] mu­sic term I know but there is not a word in paint­ing that would state the item. … Now what I’m af­ter is ex­actly the same thing in mu­sic ex­cept that here it will be color. In other words a com­plete rhythm built like a dis­cord, which be­comes re­solved and will add a fur­ther kick, as it were, to the sen­sa­tion of color move­ment.”

Ware de­vel­ops this idea in the con­text of a sim­i­lar bound­ary cross­ing that had oc­curred some two decades ear­lier and was ex­em­pli­fied from the vis­ual side by Wass­ily Kandin­sky’s 1911 the­o­ret­i­cal trea­tise Con­cern­ing the Spir­i­tual in Art and from the mu­si­cal side by co­eval com­po­si­tions by Arnold Schoen­berg, par­tic­u­larly his String Quar­tet No. 2, which had its first per­for­mance in 1908. Ware leads the reader into the aes­thetic ques­tion of “em­pa­thy,” through which for­mal el­e­ments may them­selves evoke a spe­cific psy­cho­log­i­cal re­sponse from a viewer. This idea would evolve into a tenet of the Tran­scen­den­tal Paint­ing Group, which Jon­son helped found in 1938.

Schoen­berg’s rel­e­vance to a co­eval artist in­ter­ested in dis­so­nance would seem ob­vi­ous. It was Schoen­berg, af­ter all, who over­saw the grad­ual evo­lu­tion of mu­si­cal har­mony that led over two decades — from the be­gin­ning of the 20th cen­tury un­til the 1920s — from the acute ex­pres­siv­ity born of the wax­ing and wan­ing of tra­di­tional con­so­nances and dis­so­nances to a rad­i­cal mode of “com­po­si­tion with 12 notes,” in which no note had more har­monic im­por­tance than any other note and in which mu­si­cal con­so­nance and dis­so­nance es­sen­tially lost their mean­ing. One wishes the Schoen­berg-to-Jon­son con­nec­tion could be drawn more boldly, and Ware must be frus­trated to have to con­tent him­self with say­ing,

Chro­matic Con­trasts No. 20 (Oil No, 11), 1945, oil on can­vas, 24 x 32 inches

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