The Resonant Surface explores musicality in the visual arts
Capture The resonance surface at Irvine’s Institute and Museum of California Art, one has the impression of entering an exotic world, perhaps from another time. The viewer first sees a film, The soul of the cypress by Dudley Murphy, with Debussy’s impressionist composition “Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun” playing in the background.
The 1920 film is a visual symphony, mixing cinema, dance and music. It features a young woman, dressed in a Flapper-style outfit, dancing sensually among the cypress trees of Point Lobos on the California coast. The woman is a Dryad, a spirit living in the trees, according to Greek mythology. Hearing a man play a haunting tune on a flute, the Dryad is freed from the captivity of a twisted cypress – and the two bond in an erotic way. The remainder of the 10-minute film takes the viewer on a journey uniting the immortal woman with the mortal man.
This 101-year-old film forms the backdrop for the 24 paintings in the exhibition. Subtitled “Movement, image and sound in Californian painting”, The soul of the cypress also illustrates the harmony of visual images, nature and music that characterizes the entire exhibition. Visitors from The resonance surface are encouraged to slow down, hear music in paintings, and imagine images and colors in music. To do this, curator Erin Stout, PhD, presents a variety of Californian paintings from the late 19th to the mid-20th century that incorporate rhythmic abstractions, sonic and chromatic references, and other multisensory subjects. She explains that the exhibition investigates our perceptions and other senses beyond vision in art.
The “Correspondences” section emphasizes the artistic genre of tonalism, postulating that music can evoke images, and that it is possible to see sound and hear color. In the tonalist movement (1880-1920), artists emphasized mood, feeling and haze in their work, using grays, blues, browns and golds, and suggesting that the forms of their paintings were associated with music. Swamp at sunset, near Mount Tamalpais (1896) by Amédée Joullin is a vast landscape of a marsh filled with grasses and plants in various browns. Calthea Vivian Morning fog (1915) is a golden-hued vision of tall trees saturated with hazy morning light. that of Maurice Braun El Cajon Mountain (1917) is a Californian landscape that depicts grasses, bushes, trees and mountains in earthy colors bathed in sunlight.
The “Rhythm and Abstraction” section emphasizes the evocative use of line, form and color. Styles include pointillism – the dense application of individual dots of unmixed paint to form images, and Divisionism – paint strokes, functioning similarly to pointillism. Both styles originated in Europe in the 19th century and were used by West Coast artists in the 20th century. The didactics of this section explains: “When viewed up close, these works approach pure abstraction, reveling in their investigation into the nature of color itself. “
by William Henry Clapp Countryside road (1943) uses the classic pointillism technique to illustrate majestic yellow, blue and purple foliage. From a distance, the painting reveals the flickering play of sunlight and shadow. John M. Gamble Calce de Oro (Poppy Field near Banning) (1939) is a pointillist landscape displaying a large field of orange flowers, between blues and greens. In Divisionist by William A. Gaw Crescent City Lighthouse (1920), colorful streaks of light create sunlight on water and rocks, creating a vibrant coastal setting; the paint applied in a thick layer adds texture and depth to the work.
The “Dynamism and Flow” section includes work by Knud Merrild, who first used the term “flow paintings”. His Asymmetric symmetry (1943) was created by drizzling house paint onto a liquid surface and then tilting it to allow the colors to combine. The resulting abstract painting is smaller and more tame than most of Jackson Pollock’s works, but embraces a similar spontaneity. Gordon Onslow Ford’s dynamic abstract Constellations and grasses (1957), also in this section, combines a series of overlapping circles in blue, white and brown with large grasses in green. The result is an ethereal vision, suggesting music from the sky.
The “Visual Music” section features the work of Morgan Russell and Stanton Macdonald-Wright who created the Synchromist movement at the turn of the 20th century. This movement was based on the arrangement of colors in paintings in the same way that composers write musical compositions, while using the geometric shapes of cubism and vibrant colors. This section includes Russell Synchromy in orange (1922), about which he writes: “It is only by a feeling of continuity or of curve that one can produce on us an effect as emotional as that of music. This sense of color curves somehow transports us and not just up and down or side to side like the line does, but it’s a powerful way to drag us through space in waves.
Macdonald-Wright The Roof (1955), one of his last Synchromist paintings, can also be found in this section. It combines bold bands of primary colors, arranged in an abstract manner, with flowing lines, evoking an impressionist piece of music, possibly that of the French composer Erik Satie (1866-1925).
Another artist of “Visual Music” is Oskar Fischinger. His Triangles / Blue triangles (1949), an abstract composition of intersecting forms, suggests both music and cinema, and he was also an experimental musician and filmmaker. The didactic of the exhibition explains: “Fischinger’s paintings, which have sometimes served as studies for his films, play with our perception of depth and movement through the careful layering of form and color. In these examples, the shapes appear to recede in space and dance smoothly across the surface.
Along with this exhibition, IMCA presents a range of experiential programs for interactions and exchanges with the public, addressing what it means to resonate. These include programs examining the power of the voice, a series of bilingual art discussions in Spanish and English, lunchtime gallery discussions, an audiovisual performance by a student from the ‘UC Irvine a cappella group VocaLotus, and a virtual screening of films by Dudley Murphy.
“The Resonant Surface” is on view until February 19, 2022 at the Institute and Museum of California Art., 18881 Von Karman Ave., Irvine; Tuesday to Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. free; imca.uci.edu.