Yesterday I had the good fortune to view some paintings of German-born Southern California artist Oskar Fischinger (1900-1967) at the Laguna Art Museum. I also met his son Richard Fischinger and his son’s wife, Mary.
At a time when we are starting to see censorship of critical art in this country (Rob Rogers, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette), it behooves us to think back to what happened in Europe in the early 20th Century, when art that did not fit the political preferences of a narrowly-focused government was labeled “degenerate” (entartet, which actually means “outside of the [politically approved] style of art”) and therefore forbidden. Oskar Fischinger had to leave Germany in the 1930s because his works did not match the preferences of the people in power.
How are his paintings and inventions relevant to our thinking about photography and other arts?
Fischinger’s works are an artistic mirror of concurrent technical and artistic developments. In a time long before the ease of digital manipulations, he set hand-drawn photographed animations to music, independently and also with some major studios. Some of these animations can be seen and purchased from the Center for Visual Music currently. He was well versed in camera work and invented a wax-processing machine that projected colorful light patterns that could be manipulated for special effects. In this respect, his work was very much in parallel with his contemporaries Moholy-Nagy and Man Ray, as well as Kandinsky, Klee, Feininger, Mondrian, and Miró. His paintings are a wonderful kaleidoscope of his time, in that they reflect the wonders of industrial achievements and space exploration through the 1960s, and the ideas are expressed in artistic forms that are now called “mixed-media”.
The two paintings below shows some of these effects as displayed at the Laguna Art Museum. I immediately felt a kinship with Oskar Fischinger, as my own work in the last few months has taken me to similar levels of abstraction. I recently showed the work “Overture” at a meeting of the Photographers’ Exchange Group in Irvine, and some members could immediately hear music in their minds. The image “The Arrival” certainly also intimates some kind of travel in time and space, although, as may be the case in all of these works, they may also be a metaphor for internal mental processes.
Oskar Fischinger, “Snow White – Red Circle,” 1943
Gerhard Clausing, “Overture,” 2018
Oskar Fischinger, “Satellite,” 1950-60
Gerhard Clausing, “The Arrival,” 2018
Oskar Fischinger also painted a lot of “Heads” in his time, some of which were visualized full of associative symbols and objects. Especially the example which Richard Fischinger showed me on his cellphone (of an Oskar Fischinger painting in his collection), shown below, reminded me of the current work of my friend Sandra Klein, who enhances large photographic silhouettes of herself and her mother with needlework and a variety of other objects as a comprehensive artistic metaphor combining past and present; both works transcend media as well as time and space.
So it is definitely inspiring to look in on the work of a universal talent from the last century, since the work and its implications can affect our own present and future work, as well as our assessment of art as part of our own expression and understanding of life. To talk with Richard Fischinger was also instructive; he was always warned by his dad to be mindful of the dangers of authoritarianism. My thanks to Richard and Mary for their insights.
The selection of paintings by Oskar Fischinger will be shown at the Laguna Art Museum through June 17, 2018. For those interested in delving deeper into this subject, a dissertation was written by Martina Dillmann at the Universität Frankfurt in 2004 (in German) that also includes a thorough inventory of the paintings.
Mary and Richard Fischinger at the Laguna Art Museum, June 7, 2018