Frank Malina's artistic venture is characterized by a long period of incubation and struggling for ideas culminating about 1953 in a breaking away from the traditional two-dimensional medium. This was followed by a series of experiments in tension, transparency, electric light and movement which were introduced at certain intervals in his works. However, Malina conducted often a parallel research in the different media and systems that he had elaborated and it is therefore important to keep in mind that the chronological order often overlaps the logical order based on the technical inventions and aesthetic preoccupations. There is also a certain persistence of the same subjects treated throughout Malina's career.
The period between 1936 and 1953 was dominated by his desire to introduce a certain symbolism and subject matter from modern science, that is to say technical objects as well as scientific ideas into his art. This starting point was briefly intellectual as would be expected of someone whose mind was used to participate actively in the rearrangements of sense data. In the pastels of the early period the observation of nature was still dominant. There subsist a few landscapes and colour studies from nature, especially a green chess knight (1941). But very soon the desire to introduce more complex scientific ideas or observations became apparent, mathematical formulae are noted on the pastels, sound waves, and rockets appear clearly defined as subject matter. There are even comparative allegories: half the picture kept in vague forms and diffused light and washy colours representing the uncertainty of metaphysical thought, whereas the other half with clearly defined outlines and colours symbolizes the merits of the precision and intellectual honesty of modern science. Another pastel is a juxtaposition of the known and unknown universe, symbolized by the opposition of dark and light forms, but especially by a hymn in praise of the exact achievements and discoveries of science.
These pastels are often monochromatic studies, that is to say all variations are noted by the addition or subtraction of white from the colour chosen.
The great variety of subjects that are in constant competition in the artist's mind are always closely linked with the preoccupations, constant or passing, in Malina's life.
For example dotted lines are introduced to show the outlines of invisible objects, a process employed in engineering drawing, which in the new context takes on an ornamental value, based on an intellectual reasoning.
Classical Art theory has the tendency to interpret the growth of the artistic personality from a representation of what one knows of an object to its visual appreciation and stylisation. This theory has had some serious set-backs. An artist like Klee managed for example to arrive at such a mixture of these intellectual (or naïve) elements and the stylisation of the sensual observation that his works became magically poetic while their substratum of ironic mental commentary on this vision persists not only in the title and subject matter but in its synthesis with the form.
The elaboration of in what would seem a naïve way of the subjects in Malina's early pastels could therefore be compared with Klee's subject matter and the research of a pictorial representation of simple ideas and conceptions are not only the privilege of the child, but also of the artist who is transforming a concept as simple (and as complicated) as √-1 (root of minus one), one of these pastels, into coloured language.
A great number of these subjects will reappear after 1953 in Malina's work when he will be introducing new dimensions and new media into his work.
An allegory between the stable, unstable and dynamic announces his researches in motion, the ever recurring Bunsen burner or the electric lamp an ever growing interest in incandescent energy and the actual introduction of electric light.
Classical subjects such as the nude, street scenes etc. are treated in a scientific way : the interest is mainly on foreshortenings, the airview of cross sections, or the structure of natural objects.
On the purely aesthetic side, apart from visual experiments in direction and sequence, the opposition of dark and light (black and white) is followed by an interest in the transparency of colours by superposition. Pastel is an ideal medium for this research and Malina during the whole of this period gives it his preference.
The harvest of this period of assemblage and preparation of ideas and styles is rich, several hundred small-size pastels and gouaches show the variety and range of Malina's " prise de conscience ". From the most simple subject, children's toys, to the most complex, an allegory of the structure of nature including the mathematical calculations involved, from the most rational, the golden mean represented by a logarithmic spiral, to the most fantastic - a spiral with eyes - we find a bewildering variety. This bewilderment is not due to a confusion in the artist's mind but rather to its profusion which will be cristallizing around some major themes in the succeeding periods.
While this period remains characterized by an inner struggle for transposition of scientific subject-matter into visual images and an intense experience in two-dimensional media, a synthesis or progression is made in which the naïve or rather ironic and playful element is fortunately not absent.
In one of Malina's pastels of the period a monkey is sitting in the center of his picture contemplating life dominated by a motion probability curve. Whatever sarcastic, humorous or even profound comments the symbolism of this picture may engender in the observer's mind, Malina would be the first to appreciate and share it with the commentator.
The turning point in his artistic research, however, is marked by another kind of animal, a chess horse, which will be the first work clearly illustrating his interest in the third dimension: his studies in tension are about to start. This is the transition from the period of contemplation and trial to that of research and synthetic realisation.
When, in October 1953, Malina had his first one-man show at the gallery Henri Tronche, 6, Avenue Percier, in Paris, 8, he exhibited side by side with two-dimensional works constructions in which the application of materials, string, rope, wire and wire screen had been used to obtain pictures having a character of coloured relief and structure.
In a pictured pamphlet he explained the evolution as follows : " In a flat oil painting of a chess horse several backgrounds failed to enhance the horse. The question came to my mind: 'Why a background?' The painted outline of a chess horse was then suspended by a string structure inside an ordinary picture frame. This had some appeal, and the next question was why not to omit the painted object and make a picture in which line was of painted string. The first ones of this type were constructed in such a way that the lines went into or came from the frame, and necessarily led to a pattern made up of straight lines, as string has no inherent rigidity." Thus the first important step in transforming an aesthetic impatience with the two-dimensionality of painting was realized, the beginning of a new technique with the help of a new medium was made and a relief or structure was formed. A further step was the introduction of metal wire which could be modelled. However the pattern still had to be supported by attaching lines to the picture frame. A new development was the attaching and stretching of lines by flexible or rigid material on a wire mesh extended between the frame. This new arrangement allowed a much greater flexibility in the composition of the reliefs. For example curved forms could easily be introduced and enabled Malina to break with the rigidity of the previous constructions.
But a much more important step had now been taken: a certain transparency had been obtained by the adoption of materials fitted into a multi-planed arrangement. The plastic possibilities were further enhanced by using colour not only for painting strips, but also by squeezing oil paint through the interstices of the wire meshes.
Other variations of this theme were obtained by slices or cut-outs in the wire mesh which let the colour of the back panel participate in the composition, roughly in the manner of the Italian painter Fontana in his monochromatic pictures, who slashes the canvas with a knife, breaking the monotony with a plastic and symbolic effect.
One of Malina's wire collages was acquired at the " Salon des Réalités Nouvelles " in 1954 by the City of Paris and is exhibited at their Museum, in Avenue du Président Wilson. Entitled " Deep Shadows " , it is a study in luminosity and darkness by superposition of layers of wire mesh in different textures.
This preoccupation with materials and techniques changed of course radically the outward appearance of the subject matter of Malina's pictures. A superficial observer could paradoxically say that this composition had become " abstract ". The formal elements had of course taken a much greater importance in the new constructions aspiring at the third dimension and in this way they followed the trend and repeated the history of non-figurative (" abstract ") art. The real subject matter, however, was still the world as seen by science : for example, one of Malina's early string pictures shows a clear resemblance with cosmic ray showers. The relationships between the outside world, especially if it is an unusual and stimulating one like the scientist's world as seen through microscopes and telescopes, and its reutilisation by an artist, are very complex. But there can be little doubt that in the case of Malina these relationships are ever-present and form one of the most constant elements in his art. It is not surprising that for him the distinction between " abstract " and figurative, or representational and non-representational has little meaning.
A last element was introduced by Malina in this phase of transparency and use of multi-planed media in the form of moving fields of lines, or what he called the " fringe effect ". " As the observer moves, multi-concentric circles radiate in an unexpected manner in different directions. This " virtual " movement is in subtle contrast with the geometric pattern of the wire meshes and gives an added interest to the sensation of transparency. The fringe effect is obtained from superposed layers of wire mesh, but two disadvantages became soon apparent. The first one is that the fringes were in some positions of the picture " out of focus ", which proved to be disturbing to the observer and the second that the contrast obtained between the fringe lines and the background was not sufficiently stressed. The Argentinian artist Jesus R. Soto who has been experimenting with this kind of movement for many years finally overcame this difficulty by painting a mesh on two parallel transparent plates or by suspending fine metal constructions before a painted background of parallel lines.
The aesthetic development during the whole of this period of technical research in different media is dominated by the discovery of the third dimension and more particularly by the different ways of producing and elaborating artistically the transparency of the pictures.
We have already alluded to one of the very first string relief pictures of Malina entitled " Cosmic Ray Showers ". In this work the string structure is placed within an old-fashioned frame, which is painted in order to match with the composition.
The observer has little difficulty in apprehending that here the artist's intention had been to give a feeling of tension, underlined mainly by the direction of the various string arrangements. This feeling as communicated to the observer is based on an original impression by the artist of this phenomenon and as he remarks himself, he " was not conscious of the fact that it represented anything special ".
It was a Harvard physicist, Dr. Schringer, who recognized that the composition reproduced a definite pattern seen in cloud chamber photographs of cosmic ray showers and Malina agreed that this construction must have been suggested to him by these photographic images.
This interesting property of the human mind to store up memories of subject matter combined with images and, in the case of the artist, to reproduce them in a variety of forms with a new purpose - in this case to underline the aesthetic possibilities of tension - works in a yet more fantastic way if colour is made to participate in this quest. In the picture we are discussing the highly coloured strings, mainly in red and green, give to the graphic element a different feeling and a different appearance than coloured lines painted on a flat canvas.
" Cosmic Ray Showers " is a study in tension where lines are transformed into coloured strings, reproducing one of these mysterious phenomena of scientific research which is the particular world of this artist. It is an important land-mark in Malina's evolution and domination of the aesthetic media used for interpreting the third dimension and the aesthetic possibilities of transparency.
Another picture constructed a little later in the same year of 1953 is entitled " The Family ". It contains wire and string figures of a mother, a father and two children on a background of children's paintings. This is an expression of another side of Malina's versatile character: he wants to comment on aesthetic tendencies of his time, perhaps slightly criticize them, but mainly experiment with his own hands everything that corresponds even to a passing curiosity, of his time. The background pictures in " The Family " he copied from his three years old son's drawings. Malina says that he does not share in the admiration of the primitives and thinks it a dubious approach if mature painters imitate children's drawings. However this may be, in this picture the contrast between the children's drawings used like a collage in the background and the continued research in tension and the physical exploration of the third dimension gives a satisfactory, if slightly ironic aesthetic satisfaction, something like a Dubuffet picture seen and interpreted by Reichel or Klee, taking a pretext from nature and transforming it into a poetic or spiritual symbol.
Malina's mounting interest in transparency can well be seen in a picture entitled " Light Globe " consisting of wire mesh with enamel paint in the interstices.
In this glorification of the electric light bulb, yellow patterns repeat the basic motif of the syne curve, a standard representation of an alternating current flowing in a wire. On the other hand, the picture is constructed with wire cable, describing very pleasant curvilinear patterns, and one has a definite feeling that real electric light, aesthetically pleasant, is about to come on there and then in substitution of the idea of photons actually represented.
In any case an apparently geometrical composition, based rather on curves than on straight lines gives the impression of fluid and foreshadows already at this stage Malina's concern with light and movement.
A further aesthetic development, with a corresponding technical one in its wake, can be discerned in pictures such as " Buildings on Lake Shore ", " White Vertical Lines on Blue Background ", " Red Lines with a Blue Outline against a Blue Green Background ", or " Boy's Head ", the latter being a special example for this new technique. The main difference of these pictures from the previous period is that Malina now uses paint in a different way, squeezing it through the wire mesh and obtaining colour relief effects. Either enamel paint or, as in the case of the " Boy's Head " oil paint with Spanish white are used. Wire and string for graphic effects are now totally omitted. The pictures of this period develop more than anything the idea of transparency, not only in a pure visual acceptation of the term but also intellectually. To the previous interest in line, a new interest in structure is added, in particular the inner structure of atoms, crystals or leaves: generally structures that are not normally visible to the naked eye. This is an artistic attempt to see through the surface of things, at the same time giving the spectator a pictorial feeling of the structure of the object. This is Malina's version of the reality of things, a simple approach to nature without imitation, but also without consciously wanting to find a parallel between the structure of the universe and psychological structures. However, without adhering necessarily to the thought of phenomenologists, Malina uses colour in such a way that a subject-object relationship is established and that even geometrical and purely formal constructions like the white or red lines on their blue or blue-green background become more than an objective statement - they are always expressing an underlying human experience.
Another aspect of transparency appears in Malina's use of collages. His picture entitled " Transparent Sinusoidal " made in 1954 is a structure of several layers of wire mesh, painted mainly on the top layer. The colour is laid on in rather geometrical patterns not necessarily following the texture of the wire meshes. Although there is still a certain feeling of some science subject-matter left, the stress lies here on the ornamental effect of the texture and its interplay with the design or composition in colour on the top surface.
This effect is still further developed in a picture like " Circle Transformations ", " which can be regarded as one of the first definite attempts of Malina to produce the sensation of movement in the spectator by utilizing what he has called the " fringe-effect ". In other words the observer sees different shapes as he moves in front of the picture. This is similar to some mathematical methods, for example that of " conformal transformation " used in aeronautics. Roughly speaking, this method consists in taking vertical and horizontal lines in one place to perform a mathematical operation, into another place and transform them into circles. That is what Malina has attempted to show both as an idea and pictorially: to transform horizontals into circles representing celestial bodies.
Here too Malina has thought of a landscape having certain aspects of reality that is generally invisible. Similarities in colour with the essence of a landscape can be discovered, but in this first attempt to add movement to transparency Malina remains true to his previously confessed artistic purpose: to find a visual representation for such abstract or " scientific " matters as the magnetic fields around the earth.
In other words he attempts to transform knowledge into visual statements, taking good care to eliminate from our thoughts the word " strange " when thinking about or seeing scientific matters. In this period he wishes more than ever to prepare our minds so that we may no longer feel any antagonism to science when looking with a critical eye at its aesthetic equivalents.
The difficulties encountered with while experimenting with layers of wire meshes and his constant concern with transparency and illumination had a salutary effect on Malina since in desperation one day in 1954 he placed the layers of mesh in front of an electric light bulb and, to use his own words, " saw a new world ".
Malina's first attempt to incorporate electric lights into a picture frame came to grief because he used lamps of too large a wattage, whose temperature inside a wooden frame became excessive and charred the wood. He gave up the attempt to use electric light for several months. After Christmas 1954 while taking down the Christmas tree in his home it occurred to him to try the string of lights on the tree. The result was his first illuminated wire mesh collage. He spent many hours looking at this picture without being able to arrive at an assessment of its possibilities. A month or two later he showed it to Sandy Koffler, the Chief editor of the UNESCO Courier, who reacted to it with great enthusiasm and encouraged him to press on with this kind of work. He then made a series of " electro-paintings ". A number of those pictures were shown at an important one-man show at the Colette Allendy Gallery, rue de l'Assomption, Paris, one of the pioneer galleries for abstract and experimental art. The show took place in July 1955 and Michel Seuphor in a preface to the exhibition gave his impressions of the electro-paintings in the following words " Féérie et charme, mais dans un langage d'aujourd'hui ".
The main aesthetic innovation, namely the use of electric light in art, he saw in a subtle and poetic way : " car il y a une lumière pour le jour et une lumière pour la nuit ".
Among the pictures shown the " Lighted Mesh Collage " was the first picture Malina built already with the location of the light bulbs in mind. In this construction artificial coloured light took the place of painting.
This was a moment in the artist's career when a courageous choice had to be made aesthetically as well as technically. After experimenting intensively with translucent coloured cellophane and the colour and light relationships in general, he opted for a technique and an aesthetic effect comparable to those of stained glass-windows. Instead of using glass and lead he chose a much freer technique: changing the wire mesh layers to form any desired shapes unhampered by lead lines. Opting for electric light was of course an important decision, because Malina now broke with traditional colours and was limited to show his pictures in conditions that resembled to the cinema or television. However, the gain was considerable as he could return to directly transmitted light as opposed to light reflected from opaque surfaces as in traditional painting.
Robert Vrinat saw very well in another preface to the Colette Allendy exhibition these advantages and disadvantages, as well as the future possibilities of using real movement.
" En ce qui concerne la première (la lumière) ", he writes, " il (Malina) écarta déliberément les sources lumineuses extérieures au tableau . . . . il conçut donc des oeuvres, comme par le passé à plusieurs plans peints superposés, mais éclairés de l'intérieur par des sources lumineuses disposées entre ces mêmes plans. Ce faisant, il déplace évidemment certains facteurs traditionnels de la peinture; par contre il conquiert de nouvelles richesses. . . . Une nouvelle qualité apparaît : celle du matériau translucide lui-même, animé par les sources lumineuses ; et les premières réalisations prouvent le champ infini qui s'ouvre ainsi à l'artiste. "
But apart from the choice in form of artificial light and its many possibilities, including movement, the period of electro-paintings was an experimental phase which taught Malina a considerable amount about the transparency of colour and the use of translucid surfaces.
It is quite a surprising phenomenon that Malina knew nothing about pioneers in the art of light, like Thomas Wilfred, the American artist of Danish origin whose experiments with light and colour apparently go back to the year 1905. In 1919 he designed the first important instrument for the performance of silent visual compositions, naming it the " Clavilux ", and the new art form " Lumia ". The first public recitals on this kind of colour organ were given in January 1922. Only in 1959 Malina learned of Wilfred's work and went to see his " Counterpoint in Space Op.146 " which had been acquired by the Museum of Modern Art in New York the previous year.
These independent developments which are due to general ideas and tendencies that are in the air during a whole period can also be explained by a causality that is in the creative process itself. In the case of Malina and at the point of time we have arrived at, several new technical possibilities in the media he was working with presented themselves, and led him, as of necessity to introduce a new factor in his pictures.
Working with light imposed a new way of resolving the problem of unification and diffusion of the moving coloured forms; the wire mesh surface that had served that purpose so well until now was no longer considered satisfactory.
Malina introduced a diffusing screen of glass, later of plexiglas, in his pictures, but kept the wire mesh in front of the diffusing screen for a while in order not to lose the texture effect. This effect was described by Jean Cassou in these words : " Le grillage imposait aux couleurs un cloisonnement comme à des émaux, et à l'ensemble une sorte de subtile vibration ".
Shortly afterwards Malina conducted experiments with superimposed layers of coloured cellophane. Finally, a new and more decisive step was taken quite naturally by Malina now working intensely with electricity: envisaging the possibility of adding time as a pliable factor to colour and form in his pictures.
In the spring of 1955 he made his first mobile electro-painting utilizing thermal interruptors in the light circuits. In this type of picture one or more light bulbs go on and off at intervals of one or more seconds, illuminating different portions of the picture. Here it is only light itself that moves, instantaneously as far as the eye is concerned, so that the sense of movement which the observer feels, results from the animation process of seeing portions of the painting in a time sequence.
These mobile electro-paintings or " tableaux mobiles " with on-off lights created a certain randomness in the picture. This was Malina's first step to introduce something like a cybernetic method into his art. The basic assumption that the hazard could be utilised for artistic purposes and be controlled by the sensibility of the artist rather than by mathematical methods, is an idea that belongs entirely to the Twentieth Century. The underlying assumption is however that a sort of basic rhythm could be found for each arrangement of shapes, colours and constructions which would form the uniqueness of the work of art in spite or rather because of the metamorphoses the single pictorial elements are undergoing.
The French critic Michel Conil-Lacoste described the first impression and the functioning of a mobile electro-painting with on-off lights entitled " Jazz " as follows : " Onze alignements d'yeux, correspondant chacun à une source lumineuse colorée qu'allume ou occulte périodiquement un minuscule interrupteur thermique ". The functioning of this kind of picture can easily be calculated and gives 2048 possible combinations (2 to the 11th power) with its corresponding aesthetic effect. This is an important stage in Malina's desire to arrive at almost infinity in the possible combinations he is proposing to the spectator and in reproducing the life rhythm in his pictures. This is the first picture of Malina where the technical research and the subject-matter is equally matched by a new and surprising aesthetic effect that, while still bearing a definite relatedness with the world we live in, opens up a vista of another, Malina's particular world.
Frank J. Malina
50 cm x 77 cm
In another mobile electro-painting called " One Plus Two Triangles " the movement is also given by groups of light that come on and go off, illuminating triangles of different colours. The geometric picture, or rather four different pictures are seen, by the spectator in time. This picture, shown at a group show at the Colette Allendy Gallery in 1956, marked a further step in Malina's evolution in finding an aesthetically satisfying solution for associating movement to light in his works.
The question of rhythm, tempo, cadence, measure, speed is a fundamental one in the understanding of the time factor and movement in general in art.
I cannot go into this problem in detail within the frame-work of this study, but in order to describe roughly the atmosphere in which Malina introduced rhythm and continuous movement into his pictures let me quote from a current philosophical dictionary as to what is at present understood by the terms of rhythm, measure and movement.
" Rhythm ", we read, " is the periodic character of a movement or a processus ". This implies that there is no uniformity, but that we pass from greater intensity, or speed, etc. to lesser intensity or speed, in other words that there are maxima and minima. On the other hand if we distinguish between rhythm and measure in poetry and in music we find that the rhythm does not necessarily consist of equal parts of time or cycles as is the case for measure. From this variability based on artistic necessity within the framework of regular recurrences it follows that the rhythm can be regarded as belonging to aesthetic creation, whereas measure is nothing but a mechanically applied formula .
Without making a clear distinction between the term " motion " (generally applied to mechanical displacement in physics or observed change of position of an object in space in psychology) and the term " movement " sometimes only restricted to muscular movements of a living organism, but more often loosely applied to all displacement in space, let us recall another dictionary definition : " Movement, in a literal sense, signifies the continuous change of position in space, considered in relationship to time and, consequently having a definite speed. " The concept of time is therefore of primary importance and a mere change of position cannot be regarded as movement.
Let us now look at more recent art history in order to ascertain the importance of the integration of the time factor in the form of movement, first by representation then by introduction of the real movement into the arts.
A decisive step, probably under the influence of the cinematograph whose first perfected showing was given in 1895, was accomplished in traditional painting in the first years of our century. The first of the manifold possibilities of rendering an image of movement is by introducing it as subject-matter, for example by a car or a wheel; or its allegoric representation (Hermes clad as the messenger of the Gods). An intermediate way to represent time is by successive pictures as in the Romanesque Frescoes.
On the other hand there are the various methods to represent movement by the formal element of a picture, for example by colour juxtapositions that give us the feeling of vibration, as in the Impressionist pictures, or the way to oppose the " valeurs " (lights and shadows) as in the graphic arts, the " lignes de force " that give a feeling of tension, or, in composition, instability which is yet another way to make us perceive the movement.
In the first case, that of subject-matter, the great innovation was made by the Cubists, Duchamp, and the Futurists to introduce multiple views and a figuration of speed, in the second, Robert Delaunay with the formal element " colour " in his " contrastes simultanés " and his " disques ", managed to underline the importance of movement without completely breaking with the traditional methods.
An issue of this method is one of the " kinetic " currents still very much active today: the emphasis is laid on the purely " visual " aspect of movement and the spectator is invited to displace himself parallel to the picture or by a vertical movement (by bending) in front of the picture in order to introduce the time factor (Vasarely, Soto, Agam, etc.). Malina's fringe-effect pictures fall into this category.
Actual movement was introduced by pioneers such as Tatlin, Gabo, the " ready-mades " of Duchamp and Man Ray from 1913 onwards, followed by Calder and nowadays the Swiss Tinguely and others. Here the objects can vary from the glorification of the modern machine to an ironic or poetic commentary on it.
A utilisation of the natural elements to produce the movement in the tradition of Calder's mobiles is practized at present by artists such as Le Parc and Mack (Air), Kosice (water) and Aubertin (fire).
The introduction of light and real movement or what could be regarded as the new tradition of Malina's artistic current, saw pioneers like Wilfred with his " Clavilux ", Scriabine with his colour projections accompanying his Prometheus-Symphony and Moholy-Nagy with his " Lichtrequisit " at work. But none of them, with the exception of Wilfred who perfected his art of " Lumia " pursued their experiences in a methodical way and Malina, ignoring these attempts, passed from the utilisation of artificial light to its incorporation in painting in the form of continuous movement with nothing but his previous artistic and scientific experience to guide him.
His first idea was to introduce electronic methods for this purpose. He found a young engineer specialized in this field, Johnny Villmer, to cooperate in this research. Malina and Villmer first tried to introduce a variable intensity of light into the mobile system, but without any practical results, although they later found out that this could easily have been done with Thyrostron tubes. Malina was very anxious to use some kind of electronic system, but learned that with high wattage it was rather difficult to do so, especially if he wanted to reduce complexity, size and cost to a minimum. He and Villmer finally decided, with much reluctance, to attempt the construction of an electromechanical system in order to introduce continuous movement in the pictures.
The result of this research was a four-component system to which Malina gave the name of " lumidyne " and he produced the main body of his work with it from Spring 1956 to 1963.
The four parts of this system are the lights, the motor-driven movable elements (motors), a transparent plate (stator) and a translucent diffusing screen.
For the illumination Malina used essentially fluorescent tubes and incandescent lights mounted on a backboard. No coloured tubes were utilized since the difficulties of replacement would have been too great for the future owner of this type of picture and could have induced him to alter the colour disposition conceived and perfected by the artist. One of the major aims of Malina on the practical side was to find a system that had all the characteristics of light and continuous movement without having to use too complicated a means which in turn would require an expert for the maintenance of these art objects.
Another way of utilizing the white light incorporated in the picture was to fix mirrors on the backboard which sometimes reflected the light towards the diffusing screen.
The principal task for the artist in this type of lighting arrangement is, however, to find the exact location of the lights so that they match with the composition.
But since we have mainly direct transmission of light the picture is above all determined by the paintings on the stator and the rotors.
The driving system for the second element of the lumidyne system, the movable disks called rotors, is like the lighting system fixed on the backboard. In the smaller pictures only one rotor driven by a small electric motor is used, whereas in the larger pictures several rotors are driven by as many electric motors. The rotating disks (rotors) are made of transparent material, generally plastic, which are painted on either by transparent colour (vernis gras) or with opaque paint, generally following a previous design.
As to the speed at which the motors are turning Malina has found that a combination of speeds from one turn a minute to one turn every two minutes gave the most satisfactory results.
The motor arrangement gives Malina a variety of possibilities. If several motors can be made to turn at different speeds, they can also be made of different diameters and thereby produce " local " speed effects according to the distance at which the coloured form is placed from the centre of the rotor. If a greater variety yet is desired the rotors can be made to overlap. Malina has always the desire to remain in complete control of his means and generally avoids the introduction of too many variable sub-elements into the movement factor. The most complex movement he has introduced so far in the lumidyne system is in the picture " Changing Times ", acquired by the Lyons Museum, where two large rotors overlap by about a quarter of their area and create a complex yet well-controlled movement.
The visible movement, however, is mainly determined by the opaqueness or transparency of the portions of the rotors and the stator.
The latter is, as the name implies, a fixed plane, plate or sheet of transparent material (plexiglas or any other glass). Its main function is to hold the principal composition of the picture. Opaque paint is used to cut off light, and transparent oil paint for the rendering of strong colour effects.
It is, of course, necessary to integrate the painting of the rotors with that of the stator in order to achieve the kind of movement aimed at by the artist and although the potential changes or transformations will always have to be kept in mind, this mixing of colours resembles closely to the working process of a traditional painter with his palette and his canvas.
The equivalent of this canvas, in Malina's pictures, is the diffusing screen. Already used with his "electro-paintings" this is a glass or plastic sheet placed at one to five centimeters in front of the stator plane, on which all the technical arrangements previously described become visible. This sudden transformation of complicated mechanical devices into perceptible, coloured forms moving at a certain rhythm have induced some observers and critics to speak of " magic ". Needless to say that such an expression does not please Malina who sees nothing supernatural in this transformation from the inner structure to the outward appearance of natural objects, one of the principal aims of his art.
The diffusing screen on which the changing images appear can be made to increase or decrease the " valeur " (light and dark) by using either mat or shining surfaces or by blackening the glass.
Another way of reducing the milkiness of the diffusing screen is the retention of a layer of wire or plastic mesh on which a uniform dark or a painted colour is left.
The main features of the lumidyne system are the judicious combination of the four (or five) elements forming the work of art, the spacing between these elements which could become the essential factor in the final composition, and the fact that, with a very nominal power input, these narrow boxes can still be hung on a wall (or if murals, worked into the wall). In fact this cinematic art remains intimate and at a human scale, closely linked to painting in its effects and application.
The subject-matter of the pictures of the lumidyne period, Malina's principal works, is still dominated by the unseeable scientific world. But equal importance is now placed on colour and colour transformations by the use of various light sources, resulting in a variety of movements of multiple aesthetic intentions.
Frank J. Malina
"Point Counter Point", 1956
57 x 57 cm
The very first lumidyne picture " Point counter point " shown at the Salon des Réalités Nouvelles in Paris in 1955, contains the idea of making spatial orbits and the coming and going of stars visible. In the lower part of the picture a human rhythm is introduced symbolising people on the earth moving at their own speed. One is struck at once by the wide range of colours in this composition, due to the fact that both rotor and stator are painted and that apart from the mobile local colours new chromatic combinations are produced by the interaction of the different "lumidyne" components: for example a yellow area on the rotor passing before a blue shape painted on the stator will be seen as green on the diffusing screen. The recurrence of colours in this particular picture is from about 2 to 2 1/2 minutes, but this cycle is difficult to find since the movement is rather complex. Although the colour scheme has some affinities with natural hues, a strange other-world blue in the sky, yellow for the stars and brown for the earth, the main chromatic fascination lies in the superposition of these colours, which has less a blending than a merging effect. Some artists have experimented with dominant colour cycles, for example half a cycle with a predominant blue, another half cycle of red, etc. Malina in this first lumidyne picture is aiming at a great variety of colours following each other as in a symphony where different instruments or groups of instruments take up, one after another the melody or the motif.
Already in this picture a surprising variety of movements take place, similar to the movements in our world. They go in all directions: the rotor turning clock-wise, this direction is sometimes predominant, but a counter-clockwise direction can as easily be impressed on the picture. In addition points of lights go up and down, and also sideways. Thus a surprise effect can be created by yet unseen forms coming in from the edge of the picture. The speed of the movement is also very varied: although a shape or a point painted on the outer periphery of the rotor would be moving faster than a point half-way to the centre. It can be made to move more slowly by the way it is painted.
In " Point Counter Point " all the aesthetic possibilities of the lumidyne system are already present: variety of colours, variety of movement and of subject-matter.
As to the latter there are three main recurring themes, giving often the impression of three different styles, geometrical shapes, the human figure and astronomical or astronautical objects.
In a picture called " Geometry I " a very slow movement is employed which in fact is at first hardly noticeable at all. This picture, as the title implies, is dominated by large geometrical shapes giving off various luminosities. It was made at the suggestion of the Stockholm art collector Arenberg who had been wondering whether the transformation of geometrical shapes could be effected. Malina thinks that he has not quite achieved this but that he managed to resolve some of his proper aesthetic problems. In this picture the colour is not obtained by painting one of the components (stator or rotor) but by using several layers of overlapping cloths which give the shading. Changes take place on a red and blue trapezoid. On the rotor two yellow trapezoids cause a green area to appear on the blue trapezoid. The red on the other hand is so bright that the yellow passes behind it without the observer noticing a colour change. Yet there is movement in the red area too, caused mainly by its own colouring and the optical effect obtained by placing the red close to a grey. " Geometry I ", a picture made in 1961 is a striking study in colour, light and intensity, its very slow movement has a stimulating effect on the observer. The artist too made some basic formal discoveries with this picture and applied them in his future works.
Frank J. Malina
"Geometry I", 1961
Lumidyne System, 80 x cms
925/1961. Collection Malina.
A lumidyne picture of quite a different subject matter such as " Two Figures " stresses the graphic element and reduces the importance and strong effect of colour considerably. A linear type of figure drawing is at the basis of this kinetic painting which is Malina's first " figurative " picture made with the lumidyne system.
The female figure on the right, whose head and upright arms vanish and disappear, is facing a more mechanical form. Both are placed in front of fluorescent tubes and although the colour transformations are of smaller interest here, the movements of the two figures resemble a fantastic dance, at once ritual, animal, human, and mechanical.
Frank J. Malina
"Two Figures VIII", 1968
3 Component Lumidyne System
60 x 80 cm
Another lumidyne picture entitled " Changing Times " won the Prix Yvonne Valensi at the Salon " Comparaisons " in 1958 and was acquired by the Lyons Museum. It belongs also, for its subject-matter, to this world of changing human forms. These metamorphoses could equally well be occurring in a mythological, aquarian, enchanted, or scientific world. The French critic René Deroudille felt these correspondences when he writes: " Derrière le grillage, l'écran illuminé de couleurs présente trois formes principales verticales empruntées peut-être au monde de la fôret, animées lentement par le mouvement du 'rotor', tandis que des ondes glissantes et légères comme des lianes ou des algues semblent relier entre eux ces spectres enchantés. " (in the Bulletin des Musées Lyonnais , vol. II, N° 3, 1958)
Frank J. Malina
"Changing Times", 1958
80 x 120 cm
Photographie de Marc Vaux
Malina in his lumidyne pictures, gives us a surprising display of pure geometric forms and of the symbolic or fantastic interpretation of human figures, but he is particularly in his element when he takes an interstellar kinetic experience as his starting point.
Frank J. Malina
"Orbits 5", 1962
81 x 62 cm
Collection Bob Robertson
" Orbits V " made in 1962 is one of these pictures where the astronomical or even astronautical subject-matter corresponds obviously to a personal experience of the artist. The attention of the observer is at once directed to a big red orbit in the upper part of the picture. Internally, along some narrower orbits three small blue planets appear now and then. Below is a network of moving red and white light. The colours are limited but striking and the red is predominant, but the interplay of the slight changes in red and black, as well as the recurring appearances of the blue planets give us a feeling as if we were traversing the universe at a pleasant rhythm.
The great variety of lighting effects and of movements are here at culmination point. Incandescent lights whose filaments are sometimes directly observable, alternate with fluorescent tubes. In addition to this directly transmitted light the observer perceives another quality of light in the form of a strong red colour reflected from the stator plane. Although the predominant red of this picture may not have a direct symbolic significance Malina was probably thinking of the intense heat that emanates from a rocket motor during a space flight. This picture as so many kinetic paintings already shown at the one-man exhibitions at the Furstenberg Gallery, rue de Furstenberg, Paris, and the Schwarz Gallery in Milan in 1961, underlines Malina's new aesthetic concern with studies of multicoloured orbits.
Jean Cassou has felt that in his lumidyne pictures Malina has achieved a successful fusion of his favourite subject- matter with the formal elements when writing : " Le spectateur assiste, dans ces petites caissettes accrochées au mur comme des tableaux, à un jeu, plus ou moins rapide de combinaisons stellaires, à un scénario céleste, à toute une comédie amoureuse de points et de lignes d'une essence insolite, où la lumière et la couleur se confondent en une substance, en une chair que nous appellerions volontiers angéliques . . . "
The present visual researches of Malina, although he is still continuing to make pictures with the lumidyne system, are mainly concerned with the reflection of light. He has developed the "reflectodyne" system which has considerably changed his artistic attitude. The fact that he is no longer employing paint on static or rotating surfaces, but that a surprising variety of forms is almost spontaneously created and has then to be controlled and directed by the artist, has changed the order of creation and puts into a new context such important problems as the relationship between the subject-matter and its formal expression. Previously Malina started out with a definite visual and emotional experience, so that he could speak without difficulty of the " subject-matter " of his picture and could give it unhesitatingly a title. Now he is faced with a welter of forms which take on their " subject-matter " slowly and the title for the reflectodyne pictures is only found at the term of this creative process.
On the purely technical level the new reflectodyne system is composed of four elements : the light source, a colour wheel, reflecting surfaces and a diffusing screen.
The light in this system is projected from one side of the picture and then passes through the colour wheel driven by an electric motor. This light is then reflected onto the diffusing screen by polished surfaces or mirrors. The movement is introduced into this type of picture by making some of the reflecting surfaces turn by an electric drive, for example mobile multiple mirrors reflect the light onto the diffusing screen as well as indirectly via the backboard. A great variety of forms and movements can be produced by the different possibilities of colouring the reflecting surfaces themselves and so multiply the chromatic effects as well as the design of the reflected forms. A further way of influencing the general composition is to deform the polished aluminium surfaces that serve as "mirrors" and thereby give different light intensities to the reflected lines, the angle of deflection having considerably changed in the different portions of the reflecting surfaces.
The fact that in composing his pictures Malina could exchange whole components is another notable feature of the reflectodyne system. The lumidyne system had already lent itself to certain transformations, but the changing of component parts in the reflectodyne pictures is much
more elaborate since these parts could be produced in quantity like gramophone records.
The reflectodyne system gives a completely new " objet d'art " and has no longer the characteristics of a framed picture. It is a " box ", in the form of a television set, since a certain depth is needed to house the various component parts producing the different reflecting effects.
These boxes remain on the " human " scale and are earmarked for the intimacy of the home rather than for the cinema or public places. The diffusing screen, that could also be coloured, black or blue, becomes a real pictorial surface or image plane. The whole attention of the observer is now concentrated on this element of Malina's constructions and the mechanical elements are less noticeable.
It is rather paradoxical that Malina in this new expression is much closer to more traditional constructions such as Wilfred's " Clavilux ".
What has induced Malina to conduct his researches now mainly with the reflectodyne system is not only the fact that with the turning colour wheel he can determine any hue and any pattern of colour, but especially that the reflection system allows him to explore movements and rhythms different from those of the lumidyne system. In spite of some predecessors he does so in a very personal way and he exploits the fact that in addition to the vertical axis he may now use also a horizontal axis for his movements. Moreover rotary movement can now be shown anywhere on the viewing screen. Whereas in the lumidyne system the cycle recurred in one to two minutes, in the reflectodyne system there are two cycles : a cycle for the recurrence of the shapes and another one for the colours. Before a complete cycle of forms and colours is completed, i.e. before exactly the same picture returns, a time between twenty minutes and several days may elapse. The new creative process consists in starting with a great profusion of elements and reducing them gradually until a varied spectacle is composed that can be followed by the attentive observer. Another task for the artist is to fix the rate of movement within these cycles. This speed of change, adjusted to the human perception is one of the factors that causes the uniqueness of each of the completed reflectodyne pictures.
One of the more surprising results of experimenting with new aesthetic elements according to a " system " is to find that the finished works are so considerably different from one another and have almost started their own individual lives.
At the moment of writing these lines several very different reflectodyne " boxes " exist but are still subject to transformations and modifications. This is also one of their great attraction from an aesthetic point of view, since the impression persists that forms and subject-matter are in continuous evolution.
A reflectodyne picture provisionally named " Dance " was given a subject-matter in a voluntary way. Malina was watching his proper creation for hours and was rather baffled by the fact that it was producing shapes and movements which he had never seen before in nature. While architectural forms, light beams and complex mobile shapes that resembled waves were turning in an almost endless cycle, Malina cut out some human figures in cardboard or paper and fixed them to the polished, light-reflecting surfaces. This experiment yielded some recognizable human forms or silhouettes that recurred in different and quite unexpected combinations, giving his picture a thematic substance which corresponds to one of Malina's basic aesthetic aims.
Before this voluntary act of what one could call a figurative need, the closest comparison gave only a feeling of a geometrical landscape superimposed upon a complex light pattern.
Malina is finding great difficulty in adapting himself to the great profusion of psychological and aesthetic reactions that follow the use of the new technique. However, it is just this profusion and possible interpretation on different levels that is so fascinating and imposes on the artist the necessity to fix the limits of his creation, while at the same time inducing him to continue the creation by modifying various elements until an aesthetically satisfying result is obtained. The composition is again comparable to a musical creation, but resembles also to the painter's transformation of his picture, a single stroke of the brush altering sometimes the whole composition.
As compared with the lumidyne pictures the " Dance " adds to the stroboscopic surprise effect often a strong intimate and poetic appeal.
But the new reflectodyne system opens up further great possibilities because music and sound can easily be integrated into this type of picture.
In fact, at the time of writing, Malina is engaged in serious researches for adding sound to his reflectodyne pictures.
The problem is a difficult one since many attempts at finding a close correspondence between colour and sound amplitude or timbre have failed. The colour organs of the Baroque and up to the 19th century were generally either purely theoretical inventions or single constructions representing entirely personal interpretations. They never established themselves as a separate art expression. The reason was probably that no direct objective connection exists from an aesthetic point of view between the colour and sound frequencies and intensities.
We have already mentioned that a new approach was tried at the beginning of our century by the Russian composer Scriabine whose Prometheus symphony was accompanied by coloured light beams that were projected on a screen. The projecting surface, however, was not large enough to produce a spectacle in harmony with a symphony orchestra. Ever since new experiments were tried, mainly based on making the visual and the auditive rhythms to correspond rather than to find narrow equivalents between the components of vision and sound.
Even with the most modern inventions, such as perfected photo-electric cells, cathode-ray tubes, and other devices used for television and in cybernetics, a considerable number of experiences will be necessary before an aesthetically interesting blending of elements such as frequency (or amplitude), intensity, overtone structure and " envelope " (viz. growth, duration and decay) of the sound structure with the visual elements, such as colour saturation, light intensity and frequency, lines and outlines (forms) could be achieved, and the problem of parallel composition really be envisaged.
The most immediate experiments of Malina in this field, similar to other researches like Nicolas Schöffer's, the French sculptor of Hungarian origin, or of certain Russians and Americans, is directed towards a first synthesis between the two sensorial experiences, by unifying the rhythms. The possibilities of application on a wide scale of the art of light reflected from surfaces and, if possible, combined with corresponding musical or other sound experiences have led Malina to found the Electre Lumidyne International, a Paris company whose aim it is to investigate the possibilities of applying kinetic art to decoration and advertising. In this research Malina is aided by painters like Vic Gray, a New Zealander, Nino Calos an Italian, and Reggie Weston from England.
In fact the application of this art is of almost unlimited range and there is little doubt that its use should become as important as the reproduction-phenomenon in pictorial art as soon as it is realized that its introduction not only in public places such as airports, but also in waiting-rooms of professionals, or private homes is quite feasible.
Of course one could imagine all sorts of other more fantastic applications, such as in clothes as suggested by Jacques Bergier and it is amusing to note that an American dentist has already installed a similar box in front of his patient's stool with apparently very soothing results.
In any case the versatility, ingeniousness and universality of Malina's present-day researches are such that since 1953 he has not abandoned any of his principal art experiences, but has rather found ways of diversifying them.
For example, he has continued making pastels and gouaches. Other small pictures are in oil paint on paper, while different techniques include varnish, enamel paint, glue, sponge, and wax. These pictures continue to elaborate the subject-matter of invisible or visible science phenomena such as shock waves, stream flows, rocket movements or surveying instruments. They are independent entities and cannot really be regarded as sketches to the kinetic pictures. This is a further indication that Malina intends to remain a painter while employing the most modern techniques and to safeguard his creative integrity with regard to the applications of his art.
A description of the personality and work of Malina and their interpretation ought to be completed by a study of the problems raised by his art.
These problems are so numerous that we cannot discuss them entirely within the scope of this work. However we shall attempt to touch on the major topics by making the artist give his own opinions.
The introduction of real movement and artificial light is the most striking as well as the most debatable and debated aspect of Malina's works. The presence of these technical elements and the " realistic " content of his pictures taken from observations and meditations in the physics field focus our attention on the interplay between Science and Art, just as the life of Malina is oscillating between these two poles.
Is it possible in the case of artist-scientist Malina to pronounce the word metaphysics ? He would certainly be shocked to hear his activity associated with such a notion. Yet if it is true that metaphysics thrives on artistic and scientific experiences the introduction and manifestation of light must have a significance beyond the mere utilization of a modern element, particularly adapted to metamorphoses and their artistic exploration. Without having to go back to Plato or Plotinus a modern scientist like Niels Bohr believes firmly that light represents a fundamental truth and that light is nothing less than life itself. Similarly without returning to the opposition between Parmenides's absolute stability and Heraclitus's absolute flux, nor to Plato's or Aristotle's conception of this problem we refer us to the opinions of eminent modern scientists like Heisenberg who believe that beyond the simple explanation and utilisation of movement and its artistic appreciation there lies a metaphysical essence of movement.
With these remarks in mind concerning the two principal aspects of Malina's art we can approach the problem of the relationship between science and art.
Since Einstein, we are faced with an interesting aspect of modern atomic physics: the idea of complementariness. Science has had the tendency to reduce everything to a single element, yet every day new forms and even new elements are being discovered. We are in a world of potentiality and possibility, and the idea of complementariness in art and science is a metaphysical one, based on the metaphysicians' conviction that a single experience, a single thesis can never be satisfactory.
The problem of movement has since prehistoric times occupied the mind of the artist. Certain periods put more stress on it than others and emphasis was laid on it for different reasons connected with ideas ranging from the mere representation of the animals or the human beings' muscular movement to abstract ideas such as dynamism, the technical revolution or modern progress.
Malina sees in movement an aspect of life, an aspect of our time. An observer in front of a two-dimensional surface or static sculpture shows after a certain time a lowered interest, and continuous movement should keep his interest awake. This is one of the crucial points of his research: how to keep the observer in a state of aesthetic enjoyment and expectation. This is also the reason why Malina tries to find the longest possible cycles and even infinity in the changing forms and colours and in the very nature of the movements. In this connection it is also interesting to know that Malina gives as his first and foremost reason for introducing " real " movement into his pictures plain curiosity, which he describes as a deep human trait. This scientific and artistic curiosity he manages to communicate to the observer.
On the other hand Malina thinks that the artist's function is to respond to certain kinds of forms in his time. He invents forms, since nothing in nature corresponds exactly to the movement of his forms on the screen. Yet he says a flame or a fire comes close to this changing spectacle.
To the classical objection of traditional painters maintaining that there is already enough movement, and more subtle, intimate and poetic movement at that, in the subject or especially in the case of " abstract " painters in the disposition of the masses, the lines of force, the oppositions of colours or the tension of lines, Malina replies that " movement like colour is a fact ". It would be like tying one's hand behind one's back if one did not use this important element in the plastic arts. In fact through movement a new and different art from painting is instituted and can no longer be compared with the other arts in this narrow way. With movement you can even make objects and give totally different illusion of depth.
The crucial point here is of course whether the aesthetic imagination is activated or dulled by real movement. Malina thinks that kinetic art is the best way to communicate the fascination of the movement of the sea, the fire in the fire-places, fish in an aquarium, the vibration of leaves or even the movement of clocks to the observer.
As to the subject-matter of movement, taken from different manifestations in nature such as satellites, points of moving light could remind one of this and it is therefore a legitimate means for an artistic representation of it.
Another particular interesting aspect of actual movement in pictures is of course the testing of the human capacity to follow psychologically and aesthetically a certain rhythm. The artist first of all has to limit the speed. If his kinetic picture changes too rapidly a disagreeable effect is produced, whereas too slow a movement will draw the observer's attention to the mechanical phenomenon and the movement of forms and colours will be forgotten and make the observer think of a lit-up picture. Malina says on this point that the range of movement is to be limited just as colours are limited by the violet and red extremes of the spectrum.
In any case the movement itself will produce some kind of experience, and this experience will be at the same time scientific and aesthetic. It can be compared to a musical experience or called metaphysical but will be a complete rhythmic experience with analogies to the rhythm of modern life both in its technical and aesthetic aspects.
Towards the idea that a real synthesis between science and art is possible Malina is sceptical. He wants to bring to the observer the new kind of world one is finding with a scientific method and which remains generally unseen by the naked eye. For him science gives a kind of vision which the artist then tries to translate or give an illusion of by all kinds of techniques. He does not think that detailed precise scientific knowledge would help an artist to re- present and depict certain phenomena in nature that seen to him important.
As to the " scientific " attitude the eternal discussion as to whether this means an objective or subjective approach has not ceased and will probably never do so.
In the case of Frank Malina there is little doubt however that apart from his main object: that of depicting or transforming scientific subject matter and emotions into artistic representations and techniques, he combines a deep sensitive individuality that seeks a direct, spontaneous expression with the cool, experimental approach of the scientist which give his " pictures " their particular quality and through this association transcend reality and fascinate the spectator.
Beyond all technical innovations and the meaning of such abstract terms as artificial light or actual and continuous movement, it is finally in the artist as a human being that we find the answer to these problems and a significant synthesis between the scientific and artistic aspects of our universe.
It is on this human level and through the multiple achievements accomplished during the course of Malina's life that we discover the secret of his originality.
(This monographic study written in 1963 is published in the year 2000 without any modifications)
© Copyright Frank Popper