OSKAR FISCHINGER

by Ray Zone



"Square Symphony," oil on panel,
27 1/2 x 20", 1943.



"Squares," tempera on paper,
10 1/8 x 11 3/4", 1934

(Jack Rutberg Fine Arts, West Hollywood) The idea of visual music, a synthesis of motion, color and sound, informs the entirety of 20th Century Modernism. One cannot grasp the meaning of abstract art without an understanding of the importance that related arts and sciences played upon it. Most of modernist abstraction, in fact, is a consideration of synthesis, an attempt to convey visually the interaction of the senses or the impact of modern media such as photography, cinema and radio upon our perceptions of the world.

With the work of filmmaker and painter Oskar Fischinger we have a preeminent example of this drive toward synthesis. This current exhibit titled Optical Poetry, features more than forty paintings and drawings in conjunction with his pioneering abstract motion pictures. It is an excellent opportunity to examine an influential body of work that is seminal to what we mean when we say "Modern" art.

As early as 1920 Fischinger began to explore cinematic techniques in painting. By 1922 he had begun to produce abstract films, and in a few years was synchronizing abstract imagery to popular records with a series he called Studies. These films were shown in theaters as advertisements for the recordings. Sixty years before MTV, they were the first music videos. Each of these studies ran three minutes in length and included approximately 5000 drawings coordinated to the music. By 1935, Fischinger had made color films with Circles and Composition in Blue.


Under contract to Paramount Studios, Fischinger immigrated to America in 1936 where he produced the abstract film Allegretto. For MGM Fischinger made a short film in 1937 titled An Optical Poem which was distributed to theatres everywhere. In 1938, Fischinger was hired by the Disney studios to design and animate portions of "Fantasia". After a year, Fischinger resigned from the project because his ideas were modified by committee but his influence is obvious in the initial Bach episode of the film. During his stay at Disney, Fischinger's films were screened every week for the entire staff at the studio.

After his immigration from Germany, Fischinger had refused to paint. He believed that visual music, abstraction in motion, was the future of art. But he found it difficult to raise money for film production in the 1940's, so he turned to the easel as his creative outlet and began to exhibit in New York art galleries. During World War II, Fischinger's films were screened in New York, where they exerted an influence on future abstract expressionist painters such as Jackson Pollock.

With his own resources, Fischinger produced two film masterpieces in the late 1940's. Radio Dynamics is an intentionally silent meditation, a visual invocation of a prayerful interior language. Motion Painting No. 1 documents the growth of a specific painting. Here the arts of film and painting are uniquely combined as the work evolves before the spectator's eyes into the final intricate array of colorful motive lines. Not surprisingly, Fischinger also produced stereo paintings in addition to a Stereo Film from 1952 in his drive towards a perceptual synthesis in which visual space would be incorporated into his work.

 

"Large Refraction," oil on linen,
32 x 40", 1962.

 

"Triangular Planes," oil on panel,
25 1/4 x 36", 1949.


Ironically, Fischinger's paintings easily stand by themselves as inherent works of art apart from their cinematic derivation. A work such as the 1934 Squares with its bright primary colors standing dominantly adjacent, recalls the work of Paul Klee. The 1938 Movement reduces the ideas implicit in Futurism to a reductive and pleasingly minimal conflation of lines. With the 1962 oil-on-linen titled Large Refraction we are invited to a rediscovery of Cubism via optics. Everywhere in the imagery of this artist we see the modern age reflected, through the screen of the artist's unique sensibility.

With the work of Fischinger, as with much of modernist abstraction, we encounter a luminous grasp towards a universal and mystical language of form, sound and color. To fully understand the art of the 20th Century one must discover the multi-media poetry and lyric chromaticism of Fischinger.

On the evening of Saturday, May 2, a special screening of Fischinger's films will take place at the gallery. It will be preceded with a brief discussion of Fischinger's work by Dr. William Moritz, internationally renowned film scholar. The exhibition also celebrates the first release of Oskar Fischinger's films on videocassette, available at the gallery.