The Music Look

Alexandru Ţipoia (1914, Snagov, Romania – 1993, Geneva, Switzerland) is a rather less known painter even in Romania. This basically because of his pertaining to a limited category of artists whose career started in the most troubled years of World War II. Moreover, he chose not to leave the country, although he was studying abroad, in Italy, precisely during the period when the sliding of Romania into the communist trap looked almost inevitable, that is after 1945. Unlike many of his fellow artists, Ţipoia came back to his country and remained there, practically as a prisoner of conscience for roughly half a century. And also unlike other fellow artists remaining in Romania he was enrolled neither in the lucrative unit of those serving the regime, nor in the modest network of those artists professing dissent and subversion against a – what they thought was – ephemeral rule. Ţipoia, (and his case is rare), continued to work as if something indeed happened (at the political level), but that something could not significantly interfere in the development of his own work. He was neither an opportunist nor a rebel, but rather a marginal. He thus pertained to what one could legitimately call a lost generation.What was not lost, and with that generation is basically its main asset, is the keen will (and competency) of making an art entirely attuned to the European and international cultural developments of that time. Although not great masters, artists like Ţipoia constituted exponents of a creative generation comfortably employing the modern artistic means and conceptual frameworks that the artists of their time adopted all over the world. Basically after 1947, in Romania art entered into a time-whirl that progressively detached it from the actual developments in the art of the time, as it was doomed to the so-called Socialist Realism, a thoroughly regressive artistic paradigm. Afterwards, this official propaganda style generated its own opposite, the highly symbolical and often mystical trend of the Neo-Orthodox art, that marked, paradoxically, another stepping out of the actual cultural developments on the international art scene. One would ask what happened, in this context, with such artists like Ţipoia. The answer is distressingly simple: nothing. They virtually remained the same, but having been cut off the rising tree of their sources, they actually withered out, like plants that cease to receive their nutrient. Not only in Romania, but also in other ex-communist countries, one can meet this kind of artists, looking like well preserved, but strikingly dated, relics of a mature phase of the natural development of Modernism. In his early years, Ţipoia was constantly swinging between various (mainly French) landmarks of Modernism, such as Picasso, Braque, Vlaminck, Matisse, and also Paul Klee. Cubism, Expressionism and post-Impressionism, together with hints at a particular Surrealism (of an Italian origin, reminding mainly of Giorgio de Chirico) melted into a personal imagery which was also reminiscent of the influence of his two principal Romanian masters, Nicolae Darascu and Camil Ressu. The cool dryness of non-vibrating colours covering the shapes like an opaque filling, together with the acute, sometimes harsh, cutting contours of the ambitiously monumental figures, are both essential marks of a comprehensive understanding of the somewhat tempered Modernism of the teachers. Is there a place for music in the circumstances of Ţipoia's artistic development and actual life as a prisoner of conscience? At the first sight the answer appears obvious: no. Yet his survival was intimately connected to it, because music does not mean forcefully a cheerful tune, a happy melody. As time passed and the communist rule was reinforced instead of being removed, Ţipoia came back to the rigorous vocabulary of the first (and second) Modernism, apparently in a cohesive movement of preserving himself and the cultural lucidity and acuity of his art. Strange enough, the order "back to the sources" assured the consistency of his work and also, paradoxically, its actuality, as it was opposing the erratic movement of the official art of the time. It seemed that in order to keeping to be modern, one had to exit one's own present. This was the music. It was neither sad, nor happy. It was the music of survival, of resiliency and endurance.Unsurprisingly, the instrument of this lonely painterly music was the musical instrument. Precisely the string instruments that he started to paint in the early sixties. It is not surprising actually because string instruments were one of the principal motifs of the early Modernist repertory, at the beginning of the 20th century. One could not imagine Cubism without Picasso and Braque's guitars composed and decomposed in so many canvases depicting the multifaceted experience of objectual representation afforded by that string instrument. In fact, Cubism did not address the problem of music, but the one of objectual representation. Still, as it happens sometimes in the history of culture, the Cubist insistence on string instruments revealed something of their particularities. One of them is the striking versatility given by their character of being double, having two identical shapes superposed, separated by a thin, intermediate zone where irrationalities of every kind (not only of perspective) could work. Other is their particularity of being a closed entity which is however pierced by the holes that help the sound becoming music, but also posing a problem of inside and outside, of an inside-out, a hole actually working like a visible innermost being of the instrument, and of the music. Ţipoia was profoundly marked by the later work of Braque, and this is why his seemingly Cubist works are actually post-Cubist. In the works of Ţipoia there is no research on the prismatic experience of light and colour constructing and deconstructing the object. His paintings do not present violins and cellos composed of hundreds of small geometrical shapes. Instead of that, the generously female-like (therefore essentially symbolic, and Cubism was not symbolic) outlines of the instruments are markedly modeling the visual object, like a pictorial cage inside which the representation is rather prisoner than vagrant. This attitude is highly reminiscent of the second Braque, the more relaxed Braque (compared to Cubism), the one migrating to fluid shapes of birds and women, interested in symbolism and painterly qualities. It is therefore a later, regressive Modernism that attracts Ţipoia the most. This is not wholly consistent with his particular features, because he had not that sensualism of Braque. On the contrary, his gifts were rather connected to an intellectualist stance on painting. This is why his works depicting musical instruments do not generate a visual counterpart to the melodious sound of music (like the works of Matisse, and Braque), but share something of that rigorous aspect of the printed music score. His instruments look like music notes on a stave, they have that decorous quality of a stylish shape. Ţipoia's work is also not structural, and non-temperamental too. His emotion is rather linear, lacking nerve, but expressing an accomplished, rigorous, sound ornament, a perfectly sonorous painterly mechanics. He is an architect. Sometimes his assets fit perfectly, substantially with a certain music, as in the case of "Homage to Bach" (1970), where the coloured dryness and the airy harmony sophisticatedly combine with the bold accent of a local tone, as if it were the pictorial transcription of Bach's "Passacaglia". Sometimes Ţipoia prefers to make use of a formal particularity of the music of a certain composer. Such is the case of "The 9th Symphony by Beethoven" (1968), where the instruments are specifically numerous and grouped in clusters, and in the same way they intervene, massively merging in the symphony of Beethoven proper. Similarly, "The 3rd Symphony by Enescu" (1969) is reduced to a few yet extremely well-contoured instruments, precisely because that symphony pertains to the "chamber-symphonies" of Enescu, where the instrumental voices are sober and highly particularized.

by Erwin Kessler