The following article was written in 1998 by John Stolfo, a US lazure painter now based in Hong Kong. I had the pleasure of meeting John in 2004 in Chicago. Over the years I have collected various articles about lazure painting and this is one of my favourites.
Lazure painting, as first explored in architecture by Rudolf Steiner and his collaborators in constructing the first Goetheanum building, has become one of the many anthroposophical healing arts- It slowly took root in Central Europe, spread to Scandinavia and Western European countries, and is now, after 80 years, utilised worldwide. Lazure has found its way into every imaginable building environment from Waldorf and public schools to retail and commercial spaces, corporate offices, meditation rooms, university lecture halls, prisons, children’s bedrooms, and even a basement in Brooklyn! Seen against the backdrop of serious concerns for the qualitative conditions of building environments, lazure painting has come of age. Its importance in providing health supporting, healing solutions will increase as more people realise its real worth.
What is it about lazure painting which seems so worthy of attention? How is it that this uniquely delightful way of transforming building spaces somehow affects our well-being, helping us to feel more harmonised in our breathing and possibly even changing our attitude or disposition in a positive way?
In 1911 Steiner spoke about color in building environments- He wished to awaken a sense in his listeners for the significance of color mood or atmosphere in providing support for the function of, or activity in a given space. Also, he considered the influence of certain colors on people of various temperaments, intellect, and character. For example, in a space used repeatedly for contemplation, a suitable color mood would be indigo blue. In 1907 in Munich, he chose an intense, deep red for the festive occasion of an international Theosophical congress, a serious yet one-time event in that space. This was before lazure painting was introduced and was accomplished by hung drapery. It was his position that certain color moods have a decidedly advantageous effect on the souls occupying specific spaces for a specific purpose at a particular time. Not only should form follow function, but color should follow function as well.
This lecture provided the seed for lazure painting as a “cultural impulse” later planted in 1917 in the Goetheanum project. This became clear when he with “radiantly transparent colors” (in painted glazes) in contrast to painting with opaque colors. When we paint transparently, so that the colors are freed from fixed surfaces, we allow the all-important principle of ‘through streaming light” to become co-active with the multi-layered paint glazes. This, he explained, allows us to achieve a healthy relationship with certain elemental beings. The helpful elemental beings have to do with the kingdoms of nature— animal, plant and mineral— that are closest to the human kingdom, and whose primary task is to provide “the best forces supporting our ether body.” The ether body, the individual life body, is that portion of the human organism which, among other functions, seeks to continually sustain our physical body and to improve an organic vessel for our higher, more individualised principles of astral-soul and spirit “l”. These “best forces” support our ether body and assist in our development as soul-spirit beings.
Clairvoyant sight, happens whether or not we are conscious of it. I wonder if clair-sentience, a term which Steiner used for an emerging sensibility accessible to agriculturalists, is similar to a contemporary artistic sensibility by which we are able to discern that something is qualitatively different about lazured spaces when compared with spaces which are opaquely painted. I conjecture that clair-sentience is a state of consciousness where we almost acutely sense the presence of elemental beings and possibly other higher beings. An artistic or aesthetic language which we all use daily regardless of our spiritual development would express our experience of lazured spaces in terms of being beautiful, delightful, refreshing, enlivening, invigorating, calming, soothing, tranquil… even peaceful.
Further, I would like to point out what I think is a significant concern. What does it mean when we lazure with acrylic/latex resin paints with highly synthetic pigments which come from the petrochemical industry? These paints, not available in Steiner’s time, contain ingredients obtained from highly processed chemicals, bound by gravity, cold and darkness, and emit toxic hydrocarbons in production and usage. While it is not necessary to go overboard and condemn these paints, which can nevertheless be quite inexpensive and easy to work with, we can ask what Steiner envisioned with lazure as a means toward creating a living interior? When he began to explore his painting media, he took genuine living raw materials as ingredients for glaze paints: casein powder obtained from milk protein (curds), pure beeswax, pure linseed oil, lavender and rosemary essential oils as preservatives for the casein binder, natural tree resins, natural fillers, and even pure plant pigments for coloration. It is clear to see the contrast between the paints derived from the petrochemical industry and paints which come from living nature, the realm of the etheric forces of light and warmth.
Wholesome lazure paints, which are in commercial production today, are without a doubt the highest professional quality available. They oxygenate which means that they emit oxygen into the space and do so for quite a long time. Not only are the paints kind to the environment in the production process, but they are delightfully fragrant to work with in application and to our senses for a long time afterwards. These paints, produced from Steiner’s well tested and improved recipes, afford the most suitable organic vessel for pigmentation and serve that quality of life we seek to create in our interior surroundings through lazure painting— a healing art.