Excerpt from "Abstract Film and Color Music" by William Moritz


Although barely twenty minutes of Charles Dockum's color organ compositions survive, their quality warrants mention among the works of other California school artists. Dockum suffered respiratory problems throughout his life, and in his twenties he once came so close to death that he had the sort of out-of-body experience in which one's spirit seems to detach itself and fly off through cosmic realms, able to see auras and emanations, the orbits of galaxies and electrons, and the abandoned body in its earthly context. His urge to create "mobile-color" projectors (console instruments for live performances of color imagery) arose from his compulsion, like Belson's, to recreate and communicate his personal revelations, which he later found confirmed by theosophical writings, Fischinger's conversations about Buddhism, and especially the cabalistic Jewish mysticism of artist Peter Krasnow, his best friend for nearly forty years.

In a documentary film of Dockum's 1952 performances at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and a filmed record of a performance at his studio in 1966, the three sequences, or movements, of each performance seem to be the inspiration and raison d'etre of the unwieldy machinery itself. In one sequence patterns of small dots implode and explode as if flying along keen perspective lines and radiating in emanations of apotheosis. A second sequence follows thin veils of color meandering in seemingly random trails that sometimes cross in intricate biomorphic knots. A third sequence consists of pure color felds, mostly wedge shaped, which overlap in a constant sensual movement, growing larger and smaller to form triangles, thomboids, and interlocking chains of diamonds. The intense, pure colors of these shapes create a serene, otherworldly synesthetic spectacle; the sheer force of the colors, pushing and pulling their overlapping areas, creates configurations impossible to a three-dimensional geometry.