Christian Emil Marie Küpper
Theo van Doesburg
Theo van Doesburg (1883–1931) was a Dutch artist, best known as founder and leader of De Stijl, a movement and journal he founded in 1917. He was one of the main representatives and propagandists of abstract art in the 20th century. Van Doesburg was a painter, poet, novelist, typographer, photographer, interior designer and architect. His ideal was a world in which the arts occupied an uplifting, apolitical and mutually equivalent position within the theoretical framework of the Neoplasticism.
Theo van Doesburg was born as Christian Emil Marie Küpper in Utrecht, the son of photographer Wilhelm Küpper and Henrietta Catherina Margadant. After a short training in singing and acting he decided to become a painter.
He adopted his name after his stepfather, Theodorus Doesburg, who he had always regarded as his natural father. His first works are signed Theo Doesburg. Later he added the insertion ‘van’.
Around the end of World War I the first manifest of De Stijl appeared, calling for more (international) cooperation between progressive artists. The Futurist leader Filippo Marinetti responded to this request by sending Van Doesburg Dadaist books and magazines, this was his first encounter with Dadaism.
After a visit to Paris, in the spring of 1920, in which Van Doesburg became (personally) acquainted with several important Dada leaders, he decided De Stijl should focus more on literature; he subsequently published ‘De Literatuur’, a manifest in which he ‘concluded’ his literary career. Exactly a month later, without introduction or explanation a remarkable poem appeared in De Stijl, entitled’ X-Beelden’ by one I.K. Bonset. I.K. Bonset, (an anagram of ‘Ik ben sot’ [roughly: I am foolish]), was the pseudonym Van Doesburg used to publish his Dada-oriented poetry and abstract literature in De Stijl; he feared Mondrian and other members of De Stijl would not appreciate these expression.
I.K. Bonset was a Dutch Dadaist living in Vienna. As I.K. Bonset, Van Doesburg attempted to ‘directly depict the inner movements in sound’. In Dadaism Van Doesburg recognised a means to create contrast and to shake up an audience, unsympathetic towards De Stijl. I.K Bonset and Van Doesburg together issued the magazine Mécano.
That I.K. Bonset is Van Doesburg’s alter ego, initially is only known to intimates such as J.J.P. Oud en Johan Dee. Van Doesburg especially succeeds in fooling writer Tristan Tzara by sending himself letters from Bonset.
In the fourth edition of Merz a kind of exposé takes place with the text ‘DE WELEDELGEBOREN HEER THEO VAN DOESBURG nie existiert hat. Aus dem Namen SODGRUBE entstanden, ist er ein schlecht enthüllter Speudonym für J. K. BONSET,’
There is a photo of wife Nelly van Doesburg dressed as I.K. Bonset.
In 1921 Van Doesburg introduced the pseudonym Aldo Camini, under this name he published the novel ‘Caminoscopie’, an antiphilosophy. This novel is influenced strongly by Futurism and with a cynical tone criticised traditional philosophy.
Van Doesburg first used this pseudonym in the May issue of 1921 of De Stijl. This edition contains the first three chapters of the Caminoscopie, preceded by a short introduction by Van Doesburg. Here he explained, during his stay in Milan in April, while visiting the studio of painter ‘C.C. den metaphysicist’ (Carlo Carrà), he came across the manuscript of ‘recently deceased, completely unknown painter-writer called Aldo Camini.’ Subsequently he published this ‘found manuscript’ in De Stijl under the heading Caminoscopie. The Caminoscopie is a mix of Giovanni Papini’s antiphilosophy and Futurist scientific and technological poetics, for Carlo Carrà containing a metaphysical connotation. With this work Van Doesburg tried to expel philosophy from the literature: literature is not philosophy, according to Van Doesburg.
On the origin of the name Aldo Camini and its possible significance opinions differ. According to De Stijl-expert Paul Overy it derives from the Italian ‘aldo’ [old] and ‘cammini’ [to go], meaning something like ‘The old must go’. According to Joost Baljeu, the name Camini is taken from the book ‘Discorso di Roma’ (1913) by Italian Futurist Giovanni Papini. Here Papini calls for a new, heroic man, ‘che sa camminare da sè’, [who knows how to walk unassisted]. Van Doesburg-writer Alied Ottevanger also believes the name Camini is based on Papini. Van Doesburg’s library, now kept in the Rijksbureau voor Kunsthistorische Documentatie in Den Haag [Netherlands Institute for Art History] contains the book ‘De nieuwe Europeesche geest in kunst en letteren’ [The New European Mind in Arts and Literature] (1920), in which Van Doesburg had written the word ‘cammini’ on the same page where Roano Guernieri provides an explanation of Giovanni Papini’s ‘Un Uomo Finito’ (1913). The ‘uomo finito’ Papina wrote about was a man who goes beyond the ‘mezzo del cammin’ [the middle of the journey] of life. He finds himself halfway through life and though he does not know where it is leading him, he continues to follow his path. Papini’s main character is similar to Van Doesburg and his generation, who were searching for that which is new and unknown.
The antiphilosophical and anti-logical character of the Caminoscopie seems hardly compatible with the rational and logic of the Neoplasticism so violently advocated. Van Doesburg believed that the dynamic principal, that is to say, according to him, the confrontation of two opposing forces bringing progress. This principle can be found in all his views and work, for example as dissonant or application of colour conflicting with the architecture. This is a possible explanation for his activities as Aldo Camini, but also as I.K. Bonset.
See also Piet Mondrian and Tristan Tzara.
Slagter, E., ‘Theo van Doesburg / I.K. Bonset 1883–1931’, De Digitale Bibliotheek voor de Nederlandse Letteren, retrieved 30 July 2012
‘Aldo Camini’, Wikipedia, retrieved 30 July 2013
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