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Milan Grygar: the picture of the sound and the sound of the picture.

The work of Milan Grygar (born 1926) involves an original conception, unique in Czech art, of the relationship between picture, sound and space. It resists established classifications in terms of style or generation, and shows closer links with the ideas of art circles elsewhere in Europe and in the USA than with the domestic scene.

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Milan Grygar first had a significant impact on the development of Czech art back in the mid-sixties with a specific concept of the relation between visual art and music. This concept led him to combine the realisation of visual art work with the phenomenon of sound and its existence in space. On this basis in the course of the following years he was to take his own solitary and entirely original path of development, one that in a highly individual way crossed or at least touched aspects of the work of the post-war avant-garde in Europe and America. In the interpretation of Gyrgar's works we cannot help but see certain links or parallels with the musical principles and art realisations of John Cage, for example, and in [TEXT UNREADABLE IN ORIGINAL SOURCE] mode of musical transcription of certain drawings and scores there are links with the principles of serial music, or--from outside the art or musical field--even with some forms of experimental poetry.

The art of Milan Grygar is many layered. His conception has a fixed, rational order determined by the principles of geometry and its structures. Within this order Grygar strives for the authentic formulation of a purely autonomous work that is not itself a depiction of anything and itself becomes a source of meaning. He thinks it out on the basis of systematic exploration of the mutual determinants of the acoustic and visual image. By integrating sound with line in the unity of space and time Grygar creates bonds that he then modifies into different, often very contrasting relational analogies.

This conception was preceded, in Grygar's early work of the fifties, by an interest in the tradition of modern painting defined by cubism and abstraction. Soon, however, he began to focus in his paintings on the composition and structure of the individual coloured surfaces, and in 1963 this line of development culminated in compositions of a geometrically abstract type in the form of colour structures of abstracted signs.

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At this stage Milan Grygar concentrated on drawing, and it was systematic work with this medium, and emphasis on its character as process and elemental creative gesture, that led him to an interest in the phenomenon of sound. He was looking for a form of drawing that would enable him to express the presence of sound in the picture. A solution occurred to him more or less by chance--while drawing he realised that the process actually had a dimension of sound in the sense of being audible. He pressed on, exploring ways of how to integrate the sound into the realisation of the work on a permanent basis.

In 1965 Grygar created his first acoustic drawings, with sound incorporated into their realisation. To confirm the presence of sound, it needed to be reproducible. Grygar therefore recorded the process of the making of the drawing on tape. The newly defined two-dimensional acoustic-visual form of drawing gave it the new dimension of sound-time. The sound recording became the equivalent of the drawing in temporal correspondence with the process of its making, and so became the "reading of the drawing aloud". Synchronic perception was no longer a condition, since the two elements could exist independently of each other. Grygar used unconventional means of drawing: a wire comb, slivers of wood, a metal box and other objects. Using these he created black-and-white structures of geometrical type, which could be differently arranged on a surface to produce innumerable variations on a composition always based on strong visual contrast between the graphic signs.

A year later Grygar substituted mechanical instruments for his own direct authorial hand in his drawings. With these, the sound recording became independent and equal in value to the drawing itself. Thanks to the simultaneous action of sound-producing objects the acoustic drawings also became "polyphonic". His repertoire of art media was very simple: drawing and sounding parts--toothed wheels, screws, little axles, and sometimes clockwork children's toys--a little frog, chicken, wolf and so on. These objects Grygar would soak in ink and then propel or set in motion in various orders and at various places on the piece of paper, where they created their own visual records in the form of characteristic circles, lines and points as the rhythmic traces of their movement. A key aspect of these realisations was organised chance, introduced "by the play of regular laws, the alternative of the possible, certainty and uncertainty, order and disorder." The French musicologist Jean Yves Bosseur points out the connections between Grygar's "impersonal method" and the methods used by John Cage in sets of engravings for the Crown Point Press in San Francisco in the years 1978 to 1992. This Cage project is an original example of the aesthetic exploitation of an originally functional piece of musical notation in visual art. For Grygar, mechanical drawings and other visual-acoustic projects were staged acts that he documented in photographs and on film.

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In the tactile acoustic drawings in which Grygar became engaged from 1969, he combined sound and the action of the human body in an entirely original way. The drawings were made almost without the checking function of sight, Grygar followed his touch and hearing. The surface of the future drawing was created by hanging up a long roll of paper that would reach right down to the floor. During the process the author would remain hidden from the sight of the onlooker, who would see only his feet and hands stuck through holes in the paper. The realisation of the drawing always took the same form--rhythmic movements of the fingers of both hands as they conveyed ink to onto the empty surface of the paper. The final act of the process, in which "the human body became interconnected with the surface of the paper" was the tearing out of the part of the paper inside the drawing. Through this "opening up" the drawing acquired a new spatial dimension taking the dematerialisation of the aesthetic act even further. The element of chance made it possible to bind together the meaning of the drawing, sound and gesture in the moment of the drawing's creation, which the author recorded photographically.

At the end of the seventies Grygar followed up his acoustic drawings with a large number of score cycles based on the priority of the visual graphic record, now not necessarily conditioned by actual acoustic elements. In other words, this was no longer a question of a parallel visual and sound record. The drawn scores were essentially more or less precise instructions for musical performance and offered various propositions for performance. These related to the choice of sound element, its location in space, the direction of its movement, and its course over time. These dispositions involved distinctions between different kinds of score--layout scores (see the Black score), scores-patterns, colour scores and architectonic scores. Some of them were actually musically performed, abroad mainly by Erhard Karkoschka and Jean Yves Bosseur, and in this country by the Agon Orchestra, Peter Graham, Kamil Dolezal, Jiri Stivin and others.

Other variants consisted of linear scores, sound-plastic drawings and drawings of illusive spatial figures in which Grygar continued freely to paraphrase the possible combinations of sound elements. He expressed them in small interruptions, usually marked in colour, to the regular linear composition or configuration of elementary geometrical forms. With their emphasis on the specific composition of the visual elements that created surface structures of subtly shaped lines, sets of straight lines or geometric forms on a white background, these scores bring new aesthetic qualities into Grygar's drawing.

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The end of the eighties brought a radical change. Milan Grygar returned to painting. In 1987 he embarked on his first cycle of black paintings with coloured linear elements in complementary colours. Their unmistakable poetics were based on the contrast between the monochrome surface of the painting and the luminescent lines. There were concentrated paintings of the same size, containing red, green or blue straight lines or sectors of a circle that materialised light and movement in space and time. The closed set of seven black paintings, Polemics with a Square, which he painted a year later, was a variation on these, and a set of white paintings that Grygar called Geometric Scores was conceived on the same principle. In these he was carrying on ideas from the linear scores that had come earlier. Here the role of the linear elements was take over by two elementary geometric forms, white and black, sometimes red and white, composed into the white surface of the picture, and fulfilling the function of bearers of the acoustic events. Like the black and white pictures, they were conceived as propositions for potential musical performance.

Since 1996 Milan Grygar has been working on a large and not yet complete set of pictures that he calls Antiphonies. Antiphonies are pictorial transpositions of sound events, and of course their acoustic (musical) character is expressed in the very title. They are in a mixture of small and large sizes. The reduced brushwork of the compositions consists of monochrome geometric figures or lines in a combination of white or red and black, which articulate the sound. Colour has appeared in the most recent pictures. Antiphonies are becoming constructions of monochrome colour segments, combined in ways that summon up different spatial relationships. Among his currently most recent work we also find Paintings--Scores, which are informed by the same principle as Antiphonies, but the presence of a new compositional element--plastic vertical lines--is changing the aesthetic value of the painted surfaces. Paintings-Scores suggest the possible direction in which Grygar's individual conception of visual-acoustic form may find new embodiment.

At the beginning of next year the Gema Art Publishing house will be bringing out a superb publication on Milan Grygar, summarising his work.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:portrait
Author:Larvova, Hana
Publication:Czech Music
Article Type:Biography
Geographic Code:4EXCZ
Date:Jul 1, 2006
Words:1695
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