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Frank J. Malina


Frank J. Malina
The Editors of Leonardo are deeply grieved to announce that Dr. Frank J. Malina, the Founder-Editor of Leonardo, died of a heart attack on 9 November 1981 at his home in Boulogne sur Seine, a suburb of Paris, France. (1)

Dr. Malina was a rare combination of scientist-artist-editor-humanist. He was internationally famous for his work on early rocket development, his pioneering contribution to Kinetic Art, his creation and development of the journal Leonardo, and his lifelong efforts to promote international cooperation in science and technology and the visual arts.

Born in 1912 in Brenham, Texas (U.S.A.), Frank J. Malina obtained his Bachelor of Science degree in mechanical engineering from the Texas Agricultural and Mechanical University in 1934. He became interested in rocket engineering in the 1930s, when rocketry and space travel were scoffed at as "science-fiction dreams". He obtained his Ph.D. in Aeronautics from the California Institute of Technology (Cal Tech) in 1940 with a thesis on rocket propulsion and rocket flight. In 1994, he was a co-founder, with the noted aeronautical engineer, Theodore von Kármán, of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (Pasadena, California), and was its first director from 1944 to 1946. He conceived and directed the design, construction and testing of the United States' first successful high altitude sounding rocket, the WAC Corporal (White Sands, New Mexico, 1944-1945). From 1947 to 1953 he worked at UNESCO, Paris, as counsellor and head of the Division of Scientific Research. Until his death he was an active member of the International Astronautics Federation as well as the International Academy of Astronautics, both of which he helped to found. He was elected vice-president of the Academy of Astronautics in 1960 and president in 1963. He drew up a plan for a "Lunar International Laboratory" where astronauts, scientists and technologists from different countries could work together for peaceful purposes in space. He was awarded the French Prix d'Astronautique REP Hirsch in 1939, the C. M. Hickman award of the American Rocket Society in 1948, and the Order of Merit from the French Society for the Encouragement of Research and Invention in 1962.

In 1953 Frank J. Malina turned his full energy to the visual arts (although he had never ceased drawing and sketching as a pastime since his early childhood and youth). Today, he is recognized internationally as one of the great pioneers of light and motion in art. In his article entitled "Electric Light as a Medium in the Visual Fine Arts: A Memoir" (Leonardo 8, 109 (1975)) he described the early use of electric lights in his art in 1954, and the introduction of motion in his kinetic paintings in 1955. It was in 1955 that the first exhibition of kinetic paintings took place, with the showing of Malina's works at the Galerie Colette Allendy in Paris. Four major classifications of his Kinetic Art are 1) his Lumidyne System (using electric light shining through painted moving and static elements, sometimes with the addition of a diffusing screen), 2) his Reflectodyne System (using electric light reflected onto moving mirrors or other surfaces reflecting light), 3) his Polaridyne System (using the special optical effects produced by light passing through polarizing materials), 4) his Audio-Kinetic System (light and motion paintings and sculpture activated by varying intensities of sound). The Luminidyne System, developed in 1956, is described in full detail in Frank J. Malina's earlier article "Kinetic Painting: The Lumidyne System", Leonardo 1, 25 (1968). The above-mentioned articles appear also in the book Kinetic Art: Theory and Practice. Selections from the Journal Leonardo, F. J. Malina, ed. (New York: Dover, 1974).

All of the above systems involve the use of electric light to produce compositions with light and color patterns in continuous motion. The subjects of Malina's Kinetic Art reflect the "new landscapes" provided by science and technology, particularly extraterrestrial space: "Orbit IV", "Expanding Universe", "Stairways to the Stars", "Nebulae II", "Heartbeat of a Frog", "Ursa Major", "Polaris" are the titles of a few of his works. By choosing his themes in the world of science, Malina tried to focus attention on the interplay between science and art in our time. To Malina, movement was "a fact, an aspect of modern life, and it would be like tying our hands behind our backs not to use this important element in the visual arts." Science, he said, "offers us a new vision of the universe but it is up to the artist to translate this vision into rhythmic, aesthetic terms."

In 1965, Frank Malina conceived a kinetic mural, "The Cosmos", measuring 2.5 x 3 m, for the Pergamon Press Building in Oxford, England. "We live at a time," he wrote when it was installed in 1966, "when, because of man's first steps in exploring extraterrestrial space, we are more conscious of the universe, both intellectually and visually, than at any time since Copernicus led the overthrow of the Earth-centered cosmos. The galaxies, nebulae, stars, planets and moons that we can see... make up a universe that appears to us as a silent almost static panorama. That it is not static we know... There are turbulents storms on the Sun, comets zooming through the void and other motions of matter in the far reaches of space... The mural might be called an expression of a "peaceful" Cosmos; not that, in reality, the universe is always so. Events of cataclysmic proportions are constantly occurring. Still, man-that fragile creature of Earth-dares to venture forth farther and farther away from his planetary cradle. The artist, in his turn, is challenged to find aesthetic significance in these experiences or to mock them in despair."

Malina's artworks were exhibited in numerous galleries, art salons and art shows throughout the world. These included more than 25 one-man shows. His works are represented in museums and major collections, including the Musée d'Art National (Paris), the Centre National d'Art Contemporain (Paris), the Musée de la Ville de Paris, museums in Lyon (France), and Krefeld (F.R.G.), Smithsonian Institution (Washington, D.C.), UNESCO (Paris), National Gallery (Prague), Palace of Arts and Science (San Francisco). A color film, entitled "The Kinetic Painting of Frank J. Malina" was produced in 1969 by the French Ministry of Education.

In 1968, Dr. Malina founded the quarterly journal Leonardo. He considered it important that artists themselves write on their own work for publication in the journal much as scholars and professionals in other disciplines do in their journals. Significantly, too, he felt that artists should be presented readable accounts of relevant developments in other domains (aesthetics, philosophy, science, technology, education) contributed by experts in their fields. Dr. Malina took an active part in discussions of the relations and interactions between art and other disciplines. His articles in this area, published in Leonardo, are: "Différences entre la science et l'art: Quelques réflexions" (Differences between Science and Art: Some Reflections) 1, 449 (1968); "On the Visual Fine Arts in the Space Age", 3, 323 (1970); "Comments on Visual Art Produced by Digital Computers", 4, 263 (1971); "A Conversation on Concrete Music and Kinetic Art", 5, 253 (1972). "Comments on Visual Art Produced by Digital Computers" also appears in Visual Art, Mathematics and Computers, Selections from the Journal Leonardo, F. J. Malina, ed. (Oxford: Pergamon Press, 1979).

Those persons who were fortunate to know Frank J. Malina, or work with him professionally, treasured their friendship for that modest, unassuming man whose entire life was guided by his respect for all peoples on earth regardless of race, religion or social condition. He had an abiding faith in human nature and the promise of international cooperation and international understanding as the best means to build the foundations of a lasting peace, and he bent all his efforts during the last 40 years of his life to promote those ideals in every way he could in science and the visual arts. He was truly a great Humanist, truly the International Man.

The Editors wish to extend their heartfelt sympathies to Dr. Malina's family, to his wife Marjorie Duckworth Malina and their two sons, Dr. Roger F. Malina, an astronomer working at the Space Sciences Laboratory, University of California (Berkeley), and Alan J. Malina, a mechanical and civil engineer, working for the U.S. Agency for International Development (AID) in Guinea Bissau.

© 2001 FDL

(1) Sandy Koffler, "Obituary: Frank J. Malina (1912-1981)", Leonardo, Vol. 15, No. 1 (1982) pp.i-iii. Copyright International Society for the Arts, Sciences and Technology (ISAST). Reproduced by permission of the MIT Press .