Autumn 2002

Sad beauty of Bucher’s cover art

Mayo Bucher: Open Sign

Lars Müller Publishers/ECM, £30

For the past 30 years, ECM founder Manfred Eicher has run his famous record label with visionary zeal, oblivious to the conventions and diktats of the modern music industry. ECM is almost as famous for its cover art as it is for Eicher’s towering musical achievement as a producer and label owner (See Eye no. 16 vol. 4). But fans of the label’s idiosyncratic sleeves regret the retirement of the legendary Barbara Wojirsch. Her design credit on an ECM cover was a guarantee of stylistic diversity and typographic purity. A devotee of Tschichold, she pioneered the austere, sans serif Modernist look that remains the label’s hallmark to this day.

Since Wojirsch’s departure, Eicher has developed an over-reliance on monochrome photography, usually wintry landscapes and numinous phenomena from the natural world. These photographs are undeniably beautiful, but after a while they pall, and you find yourself yearning for the range, depth and aesthetic quirkiness that Wojirsch brought to ECM covers. But hidden amongst the many desolate landscapes and mournful shorelines, you’ll find the work of artist Mayo Bucher. The Swiss-born painter offers a painterly alternative to the visionary landscapes.

Bucher’s paintings combine two fundamentals of visual expression: abstraction and geometry. You might say the spiritual and the pragmatic; reality and unreality; silence and noise. It’s therefore hardly surprising that Eicher should find a resonance in Bucher’s work, as these are the themes that define Eicher’s aesthetic endeavours as a music producer.

Bucher’s canvasses are rich, textural exercises in colour and mood; occasionally dark and brooding, sometimes light and transcendent. Into his Rothko-like surfaces, Bucher occasionally gouges wire-thin lines. Sometimes only a single line of Klee-like purity is dragged across a canvas. Sometimes he makes more complex diagrammatic constructions that remind you of the sad beauty of dimly remembered school geometry textbooks.

Bucher trained in Switzerland as a graphic designer. It shows in his confident use of brutal letterforms (he favours a robust Brody-esque Compacta) enlarged to nudge the extremities of his canvasses. The book Open Sign is the usual superb Lars Müller production. Co-published by ECM, it has an essay by Professor Mike Tucker of Brighton University, who examines Bucher’s work in relation to ECM’s aesthetic history. An exhibition of Bucher’s work moves to Leipzig in November.