Murmurs of the Universe

by Isabelle Schiavi

In the age of instant access to music through a multitude of digital sources, I find myself missing the physical process of spinning my radio’s dial to sculpt sound out of static and white noise.  I liked to think of it as surfing a sea of indecipherable messages, realities and meanings, until a subtle flick of the wrist gave form to the chaotic aural clutter, editing out the extraneous to achieve clarity and resonance.

Much of Matthias Gruendler’s artwork requires the same commitment to tune in and find the right frequency. His pieces might appear noisy, haphazard or erratic at first glance.  They are mostly mixed media composites of paintings, drawings and collage bearing hieroglyphic-like scribbles, symbols and forms whose ungraspable meaning seems to lie frustratingly and tantalisingly just beyond reach.

But give these works some time and they will grow on you, gradually coalescing and revealing themselves as the visual manifestation of an incipient dialogue, a probing of the universe.

In the novel ‘His Masters Voice’ the Polish novelist Stanislaw Lem describes the inherent human limitation of trying to grasp what we cannot understand because it lies outside of our existing frame of reference. In flux and shape-shifting, this alternate reality escapes our ability to pin it down. We simply do not possess the signifiers to name it for ourselves.  For Gruendler, each of his works represents an attempt to expand the world into the ‘ungraspable’ unknown.

Through the creative process, Gruendler establishes a visual dialogue that seeks to shape and solidify an inchoate surfeit of sensation. He works in acrylics, crayons, graphite, ink and collage, on canvas, paper and board, often combining all of these media in a single work.  Indecipherable hieroglyphic-like scribbles, dynamic gestural forms and energetically dashed off visual motifs allude to the physicality of their own making.  They exist firmly as part of our own physical world and yet somehow derive their meaning from another intangible realm.  The artist firmly believes that each of his works forms an autonomous concrete fragment that exists with or without the viewer. In this concept of the relationship between art object and viewer, a challenge presents itself. It mirrors the challenge that the artist has presented for himself in the making of the work.  Only through truly openminded engagement and exchange can one hope to achieve resonance with the work. This is the challenge that the artist posits for himself and which extends to the viewer as well.

The process of creation becomes an attempt to transcribe the white noise or murmur of the universe into a solid visual reality that may or may not achieve resolution.  A recognisable pattern arises from indecipherable layers of meaning to offer either cohesion or the off-kilter and often disconcerting sense of disquiet that occurs when one steps outside the fixed bounds of the prescribed, ordered and mundane.


As a result of his training, Gruendler’s understanding of the medium is traditional. Even though the initial impetus might be random, the response springs out of the physical qualities of the medium.  The rectangular shape of the paper, canvas or board will determine what emerges from it – or against it – the work thus creates its own physical reality, on its own terms.

His ‘cut-out’ work is characterised by the use of wrapping paper cut in random shapes, composed and glued onto the surface of the medium very early on in the process. These ‘cut-outs’ create distinct sharp shapes and compositions against the blankness of the surface. Then, the creative process will work either in concordance with or in opposition to these patterns and shapes, bringing them to life or obliterating their existence and character. The cut-outs thus comprise a useful device to initiate concrete form without referencing figurative reality.

The artist’s influences span the range of art history with references to French and Spanish cave drawings, early Italian and German Renaissance painting and Russian Icons.  Echoes of American and Spanish Abstract Expressionism including the work of Robert Motherwell, Franz Kline, Cy Twombly, Mark Rothko and Antoni Tapies can be found throughout his oeuvre.


Matthias Gruendler obtained a Master of Fine Arts at Werkhochschule in Cologne, Germany in 1984  Working at first figuratively, he felt the need to shift from Realism to Abstract Expressionism in his own body of work while working as commercial illustrator of plants and insects for the pharmaceutical industry.  He left the commercial artworld in the 90s in order to maintain the integrity of his art, supporting himself with a career in communications. From 2005 to date he has sold paintings to private collectors in Germany, Iceland, Austria, the US  and the UK while actively pursuing his own studio work.  His experience as an artist is always present in his professional support for entrepreneurs  in his role as co-founder of coaching consultancy, Curious Leaders.

Isabelle Schiavi is curator at Flinn Gallery and Arts Writer for NYArts, Next Level UK, PLUK