The quiet and often abstract drawings and paintings of Michael Müller are the products of various complex procedures. On one hand, Müller’s pictures are simply maps, but what he is a cartographer of poses a question that is not easily answered. In his recent solo exhibition ‘Musikstücke und Farben’ (Pieces of Music and Colour), the German artist acted as a translator of sorts, operating as an intermediary between space, sound or concept and the support of paper, canvas or ceramic. In Kreuz des Südens (Southern Cross, 2008), Müller presented one facet of his undeniable skill with a pencil, particularly in terms of the controlled and methodical way he handles this medium. Faint and rhythmic patterns were repeated across the page, and in the case of Kreuz des Südens, this compulsive continuity created a diagram of the stars, where the negative space, white and untouched by Müller’s hand, became points of illumination. A time-consuming procedure ensured a solid black chart which replicates the skies with photographic precision.
While this and many of his other drawings were compelling, Müller’s ceramic works did not hit the same high note. Mounted on the walls, they are rectangular in shape, and recall wall hangings or tapestries. The coloured tiles in Der Anfang (Megh) (The Beginning [Megh], 2010) mix greens and blues that begin in rich, dark hues but gradually fade, as though bleached by the sun. The artist used geometric shapes that slowly morph from perfect symmetry into slight disarray, implying an entropic move from order to chaos, but which were sometimes too subdued to be noticed.
Müller’s Indian origins and his connection to the country emerged in a subtle manner throughout the show, especially in the influence of Hindustani classical music. Traditionally, meghs, also known as ragas or musical melodies, are not codified in written word, and the rules are passed down from teacher to student through years of training. Each megh, with its individual tonalities, is thought to invoke certain moods and feelings. By focusing on a particular megh during the act of painting and drawing, Müller created two large canvases entitled Musikstück (Megh) at daybreak and Musikstück (Madhuvanti), played wrongly at noon (both 2010), in which the titles indicate what the artist was listening to when he created the works. While the former is made up of the quiet pencil notations of dawn, the latter work involves a more complex composition. Layering different textures of paint and pencil, Müller indicated through the title that the work comprises a deviation, as he played an evening megh earlier in the day than it is usually played. A vivid red bisected the picture plane, marking a break and drawing attention away from the relative uniformity of the rest of the work.
By creating a pictorial reaction to these meghs, Müller suggests a visceral mapping of music, which can perhaps only be understood as an instinctual reaction to an aural experience. This highly personalized practice of drawing extends into works such as Chandigarh-Auroville-Utopia Express (2008), in which two Indian cities offered an important counterpoint to each other, as both are planned urban spaces built in a grid system, in opposition to much of the other development in India. The artist recreated a map of India to scale, pinpointing cities that he passed on his journey from Chandigarh in the northern part of the country, to Auroville in the south. On top of this map, Müller added deposits of colour found in the Indian flag, highlighting and obscuring various parts as they emerge in his memories and imaginings of the country. Müller’s ability to keep a variety of media in concordance with his quiet aesthetics is impressive. That the show also offered an emotive rendering of his relationship to Indian cultural idioms, translated into visual imagery, brought an unexpected light to his work.