Rebellion is what inspired lighting designer Peter Straka when developing his collection of Kaia lighting sculptures. Intrigued by the radicalism of the Viennese Secession period, Straka sought to bend the rules and introduce dynamism into his designs. The result is a collection of sculptural lights that have become some of Kaia’s best-loved. These lights present light as sculptural works of art while maintaining technological rigour, which perfectly encapsulates the boundary-pushing vision of the secessionists.

Designer Peter Straka and ORA 8 Chandelier

In this month’s journal, we’re taking a look at the influence of the Vienna Secession movement on Straka’s timeless designs.

What was the Vienna Secession period?

Before we talk about the Vienna Secession period as a movement in and of itself, let’s first consider the word ‘secession’. In general terms, it’s known as the withdrawal of a group from a larger entity. And when considered in terms of art, it’s the act of radical minds separating themselves from the traditionalism and status quo of their peers within a particular movement. This allowed for them to pursue their own vision, breaking and redefining the rules as they went.

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Group portrait of the members of the Secession taken at the XIVth exhibition in 1902 – courtesy of The Art Story

There were many different secessions – including the Munich, Berliner and Freier movements – but the Vienna Secession, also known as Vereinigung bildener Künstler Oesterreichs, is perhaps the best-known. It was founded in 1897 by the great symbolist painter Gustav Klimt and was formed of his fellow sculptors, artists and architects. The group’s common vision was to conceptualise a new kind of modern art in Austria, moving away from the conservative formalism that it was known for. Coming together in solidarity helped them to start building something radical in contemporary Austrian art.

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Beethoven Frieze by Gustav Klimt – courtesy of Google Arts and Culture

Stylistically, the Vienna Secession period centres symmetry and repetition. Its most-used form was the square and its best-known design motifs were the grid and checkerboard. This marks a notable difference between this movement and the Jugendstil, one which favoured natural forms and curvilinear lines that were closely tied to the Art Nouveau movement in France.

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Vienna Secession architecture

Many Secessionist artists had joined the movement off the back of Jugendstil, so they would still incorporate these forms into their designs. In terms of influences, though, they tended to look towards the Arts & Crafts movement for inspiration.

Which artists were involved in it?

Knowing they would need to create their own gallery to house these radical works, the group commissioned the architect Joseph Olbrich to build their very own exhibition hall, The Secession Building. Olbrich was a key figure within the movement. This was not only because he built its physical home, but also because he completed it to such a standard that it became known as a masterpiece in Art Nouveau architecture. It stood out among other institutions in Vienna’s cultural quarter and became the gallery space for forward-thinking, modern Austrian art in the late 19th century onwards.

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The Secession Building in Vienna

The artists whose works filled this space and others included Egon Schiele, an Austrian painter and protege of Klimt. Schiele’s drawing style involved maintaining eye contact with his subject, so that each piece is a loose and figurative showcase of the intimacy he held with the sitter. Another of the movement’s foremost artists was Koloman Moser, whose works spanned graphic works to ceramics, blown glass and silverware.

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Secession building. Vienna, Austria

Alongside Olbrich, Josef Hoffman stands out as one of the foremost architects of the Vienna Secessionist movement. He co-established the design workshop, Wiener Werkstatte, and was the architect behind the Palais Stoclet in Brussels.

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Palais Stoclet by Josef Hoffman

Noteworthy works and buildings from the Vienna Secession

Designed in 1903 for a Belgian banker, Hoffman’s Palais Stoclet is one of the most remarkable buildings of the period and a pioneering work of contemporary architecture. From the outside, its grey facade can seem a little underwhelming. Step inside, though, and you see a completely different story. The Palais’ interiors are replete with marble, gilt and South American hardwood, to name a few of the extravagant materials the Wiener Werkstatte used to amplify its grandeur.

The interior of Palais Stoclet

In terms of paintings, Klimt created what is perhaps a symbol of the Vienna Secession in Nuda Veritas (1899). It features a nude young woman facing away from the viewer, alongside a line from a poem by Friedrich Schiller: “If you cannot please everyone with your actions and your art, you should satisfy a few. To please many is dangerous.” This nonchalant rejection of the status quo and desire to push for change is a widely accepted viewpoint among the artists of the movement.

Nuda Veritas by Gustav Klimt

Glass also played a significant role in the Vienna Secession. Johann Loetz Witwe’s series of iridescent vases in bold, striking tones and Leopold Forstner’s stained glass work at the St. Charles Borromeo Cemetery Church are striking examples of the movement’s notable works.

Glass art by Johann Loetz Witwe

How did this period influence Kaia lighting designs?

We mentioned at the beginning of the post that Kaia designer Peter Straka was heavily influenced by this movement when conceptualising the designs of our lighting sculptures. He looked towards the sense of dynamism and movement that’s associated with Art Nouveau and the Viennese Jugendstil that came before the Vienna Secession.

Take for example ORA, a constellation-like lighting sculpture formed of an interchangeable solid brass network holding in place eight mouth-blown glass spheres. This sculptural lighting piece captures the essence of the movement in its focus on bringing together natural and geometric elements. RIO, too, embodies infinite possibility in its ability to manipulate the seemingly intangible quality of light into physical, sculptural form.

Using the raw, natural properties of modern materials and forming them into unusual forms is central to Peter Straka’s designs at Kaia. Whiplash lines, unexpected angles and intriguing asymmetry aligns each of his designs with the late 19th century movement which inspired them. The result is a masterful blend of art, technology and craftsmanship – all combined under a clear vision of what is essential.