John De Cesare was an American sculptor turned graphic illustrator. He is most famous for his colored pencil drawings of music where he created a complex and new language to visualize famous pieces of music. Heavily inspired by Art Deco ornamentation, De Cesare’s 250 drawings are a visual language with vibrant but flat color and distinct, geometric shapes. While these drawings are subjective to how De Cesare would interpret and visualize these scores, he studied music theory heavily before creating a complex algorithmic language.
In a Cooper Hewitt analysis of De Cesare’s work, De Cesare mathematically determined that:
Music has two geometric elements within its structure. A horizontal and a vertical reciprocally related. The horizontal movement from left to right indicates the duration (or time value) of a note and the vertical, or up and down movement, indicates the pitch (or position on the staff). Since a musical note contains both duration and pitch, it forms a geometric unit in the form of an angle. This angle can be considered the space form.
Using an angular geometric shape to symbolize a standard musical note, he varied its width to suggest the length in time, and its position on the staff to indicate the pitch. The direction of the angle up or down indicated the bass or treble clef. He created forms of entirely different shapes to symbolize vocal parts. He used color to clarify visually each line of music (for instance, in a simple score, violet “notes” might indicate notes in the treble clef and red “notes” those in the bass clef).
Unlike other artists who have created abstract musical notations, De Cesare stands out because the rendering of the music is still referential to the Art Deco art movement: his own personal background. I appreciate that this large series isn’t just an abstraction of music but also keeps to the artist’s own personal identity and can stand alone as a piece within the Art Deco movement.