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Colour & Music Blog

Dreamtime and Illuminations of Beyond

I have had a mind blowing few months, of which to date I have not written about. Largely due to the fact that it is all still just sinking in.

It all started with an auditory experience in December, watching the Australian band “The Necks” whom I went to see playing in the Holywell music room, the oldest purpose built music room in Europe. Over the years I have become a great lover of Australian improvised music. In particular the music of the great rough rambling sound of the tenor Saxophonist Bernie McGann and the sensitive abstractions of the pianist Andrea Keller.

The Necks though have a unique way of creating a soundscape, taking a simple minimal motif and building it up and up and suspending it. The experience is intense and meditative at the same time, awesome and almost overwhelming, and as I have now found out could only come out of Australia.

Watering Hole

I found the Australian Outback particularly and extraordinarily overwhelming. I expected to think of the work of Australian painters such as Arthur Boyd, Sydney Nolan which of course I did, but I was surprised  often  to be reminded of Messiaen and his great orchestral works ( in particular “Illuminations of the Beyond”)His final big piece which apparently according to one of my knowledgable twitter followers, infact contained Australian birdsong. This music for me seemed to in some way come somewhere close to capturing some of the vastness and spirituality in th landscape, and the awesome closeness of the stars with the land.  Interestingly Australia has an interesting tradition of Colour Music too, of which I first read about in a biography of Francis Bacon. The artist Roy de Meistre and friend to Bacon was a  pioneer of Abstraction through music.

Driving through the Outback

The Birdsong echoing through the valleys and the sound of wind blowing across the desert and the Aboriginal philosophy of Dreamtime (as documented in Bruce Chatwin’s great book Songlines) really struck a chord with everything I am interested in and am doing and I feel sure that the whole experience will filter into my new work.

Desert I pad Sketch.

The Spontinaety of performance is something I am focussing on at the moment and the ways of portraying this. The performance with Susanna Recchia recently has had a profound effect on the way I am thinking about my work now. There are a few great shows too, which are resonating with me at the moment. In Paris (where I will be visiting shortly) there is an exhibition about Art and Dance at the Pompidou Centre about the interrelationship between the two artforms over the last Century. The other is about Music and Composition through visual art with Ryoji Ikeda in Berlin. Next month at the University of Oxford, I will be hosting talks about Music and Art’s inter relationship with Art Historian Richard Cork and looking at Visual art and composition with Michael Berkeley and Kevin Laycock.

Finally a writer I admire just wrote to me “I was musing on your own work’s hybridity, and how you arrived there, this _between_ space of painting and music which is really itself a dance.  How your work inhabits time, chance, the synchronicity of your paint and another artist’s sound, that intensity of listening, translation, transformation.  How to create those meeting points without sacrificing the discipline itself.?

All of my current concerns concisely and most eloquently stated.

POSTED: 02/10/12 3:57 PM

“Eye Music.” A talk with Richard Cork, 1st March, 2012

A talk at Wolfson College with Art Historian Richard Cork on visual art’s relationship with Music in the 20th Century. 5.15pm in the Main Hall.

POSTED: 02/3/12 3:11 PM

“Continuous Flow”

When working on artwork with people with severe mental illness, I always placed a great importance on stressing that a piece was not to be finished, and that the process was much more important than the finished product. I was reminded by someone of this the other night and have been thinking about it since. Process or rather the preparation is now the main focus in my own work, becoming for me as important if not more so than the finished piece. I am always visually trying to capture temporality. As an artist and an improvisational musician the process is always at the forefront. Preparation for that process to happen successfully is the key. In my practice, painting via performance, it’s about  finding not only the right person whether musician, composer and dancer to work with but also the right combinations of sounds, surroundings and space in which to perform this process.

In my performances, it is also important to reach a point whereby I can paint freely. To achieve this is difficult and requires a process in itself of “centring” or as some refer to reaching an inner zone.

I was recently introduced to the fascinating, free paintings of Sri Chinmoy, the Indian Guru who made a terrific amount of paintings, and which to me capture what the inspirational Buddhist teacher Ringu Tulku (whom I saw talk last year), calls a “Continuous Flow.”

Treatise Performance

Following a revealing and candid talk between Anthony Caro and Tim Marlow of which I went to the other week, I was fascinated to learn how it was the process involved in making that he remembered about his own art, and unusually not the finished piece. He humbly suggested that his enormous steel sculptures were in a way really forms of Collage, a process of placing and re-placing. Out of many artists I was least expecting this from a sculptor whose huge steel works are so tied to the final piece and Modernist Aesthetic thought. Thinking about the great artists I have had the fortune to meet, their life and procedure and rituals have greatly fascinated me.

I was again reminded of process and “continuous flow” after organizing a fascinating talk at Wolfson College given by the Director of the Centre for Visual Music in LA (Cindy Keefer) who highlighted the the importance of the film work of Oskar Fischinger and Jordan Belsen whose films pioneered a way of looking at sound. It is this temporal aspect of the visual arts, which have always captured me. Whether it is the processes revealed by an artist such as Gustav Metzger with his Auto Destructive art and Liquid Crystal works, the Lackskin paintings of Andre Thomkins, performance work by Marina Abramovich and also the moving colours of Richter’s abstracts where process and the final pieces achieve an interdependence, where everything is compounded, or made up of different elements becoming one. This quality I also appreciate particularly in the composers Janacek, Messiaen, McCabe, Monteverdi, Bach, Byrd, Britten, Tallis and Shostakovich  their subtly and shifting colours and complementary chords, of which I have and continue to try  to capture over many performances.

Flowing between Movement, Colour and Sound.

Last week I gave a performance, which I am still digesting….Until I see the  film of it,  it lives on for me like a dream which I can’t remember all the details of but which keeps coming back to me in parts. This was with Roger Redgate and Emmanuel Spinelli and the Dancer Susanna Reccia reinterpreting Cardew’s amazing Treatise score for which I have mentioned. For this I could strongly feel a real tangible feeling of oneness through the score, the sounds, music and the movement of dance and colour. Many remarked afterwards that it seemed as if we had worked together for years although never before together. There was a distinct Continuous flow between us becoming a whole. Movement, Painting, improvisation and musical ideas flowing  as a whole and our different practices held together for a wonderful riveting moment in time.

POSTED: 12/4/11 10:42 PM

Dancing, Painting and Traces of performance.

A couple of weeks ago, I had the great thrill of convening a conversation between the innovative choreographer Siobhan Davies, Myself and Michael Stanley (The current Director of Modern Art Oxford). I became aware of Siobhan Davies’s important work many, many years ago whilst at college and went to see performances of hers of the music of Volans and Reich and the way in which the performances gave the music a visual power made a lasting impression on me. Like Merce Cunningham before, Siobhan Davies has opened a unique dialogue between artforms, which as she talked about during the conversation temper, meld and shape each other.

More recently though I have become aware of her exciting work with visual artists resulting in a show an important show called Collection, which was a collaboration with the Victoria Miro Gallery, a series of works based around a score called ROTOR and most recently Commissions which are a series of works relating to dance and movement and have just been on show at the Bargehouse in London including great collaborative work by Marcus Coates and Lucy Skaer. The conversation between us concentrated on interfaces between artforms, the nature of practices and the correspondences there of.

Conversation with Siobhan Davies and Michael Stanley

The whole conversation did make me think about how dance informs my own work and is becoming very much part of what I do. I experienced dance closely from childhood and spent early years of my life amongst Ballet dancers (interestingly led by an inspiring polio stricken choreographer called Liz Twistigan Higgins). Someone said recently of my performances that I often appeared to be dancing, especially when retouching or doubling up on a certain brushstroke. I have been thinking of how painting and dance can become interlinked and In a performance shortly at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, I will be exploring this further, working live with a dancer reinterpreting the pioneering graphic score Treatise by Cornelious Cardew as part of a celebration of the great composer’s work.

Coming back to the Siobhan Davies conversation though…  whilst researching the artwork for the talk, I came across the spellbinding work of Anri Sala , and just the other day saw a magnificent show of his at the Serpentine, the focal piece of which is interestingly from the Collection show and features a Snare Drum digitally reading a performance, leaving traces of sound. The show encapsulated all that we had talked about within the conversation. It was a truly cross sensual show using music, dance performance and film ….experimenting with the gallery space in a unique and special way. It is these traces of a performance, which resonate with my own practice as I continue to seek a way of presenting my own work precisely and simply.

POSTED: 11/16/11 11:48 AM

“Correspondences Between the Arts.”6pm Wolfson College, 21st October 2011. with Siobhan Davies and Michael Stanley

A discussion at Wolfson College with Siobhan Davies (Choreographer) and Michael Stanley (Director of Modern Art Oxford) looking at visual art and movement and in particular Siobhan Davies’s work Commissions which opens in November.

POSTED: 09/29/11 3:43 PM

Performance Painting

Performance Painting at Modern Art Oxford

Paint and toys

It is just a couple of weeks since my painting performance at the Modern Art Oxford. I felt it was a great success and it has given me many new ideas and new directions. I had some terrific feedback too.

There was a great sense of drama created by the scale of the task (painting the whole length of the Upper Gallery)

Over the days leading up to the performance things slowly evolved. Firstly it was decided that rather than paint the actual gallery walls that a wall would be constructed, which I could hit with brushes, which could also create sounds. I also decided on the day of the performance that the polyurethane would be miked up to create  more sound.  In the afternoon I met with my collaborators Roger Redgate and Emmanuel Spinelli, and we spent an entire afternoon working out the space and importantly how we were going to improvise within it, using the sounds together with quiet amplification.  It was a real delight to work with such open and like-minded musicians.

Rowan-Hull,Redgate and Spinelli

Painting from Sounds

For the performance itself….. time seemed to disappear in an intense hour of creating sounds and colours and after the event I was asked whether I would hang onto the work. I said no. …and it was enough for me to take a few photographs as a record. Later in the day however, the boards were dismantled to reveal sections, which oddly looked like pages of notation of which I now hope will be used to create further work. Hopefully these great photographs and the film that is made from the event will somehow capture this special occasion and moment in time of my creative life.

Colours and Sound

Painting Sound

All Photographs by kind permission of Sisi Burn

POSTED: 09/26/11 9:41 PM

Performance Painting for One Night Only.

At the moment as I write this I am gearing up for a performance at the Modern Art Oxford, a great art and influential gallery that I have been in many, many times over the years and where I have seen some of my favorite and most informative shows. Particular shows that spring to my mind is the great South African Art show in the 1980’s, a terrific Maria Abramovich show, a magnificent Kounellis show five or so years ago and a wonderful show of Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller a couple of years ago too.  I will be painting the whole upper gallery in one night, layering sounds and painting the walls creating a musically fuelled forest of colour. It will be an exhibition, which exists only for the performance. It is for this reason I have titled it “Two Hours Only” and I will be creating with two great composers and improvisers Roger Redgate (with whom I have worked with before) and Emmanuel Lorien Spinelli who works creating sounds from objects. I personally always think of paint as an instrument in itself, so I will be using colour and shapes overlapping one another to create the sounds in my head, mirroring what I hear.

It will be exciting to have such a beautiful vast lofty space in which to create visually and with sounds. I will be using colour on black, whereby the colours resonate and with stretched polyurethane to recreate how I see colours floating within space and with which I can also make sounds myself by using percussively. The audience will become immersed in a sea of gestures,textures and colours.

I have always been fascinated by the work of Sigmar Polke who created huge paintings on the concept of time and also Yves Klein’s work via performance, which have had a great effect on me and continue to inform my work. More recently there have been some exciting performances organised by Sound Fair in Berlin including one which struck me where Arto Lindsay who is also an inspirational figure created sounds in a gallery context in a work called Symphony.

Exploring painting via performance to me is of most importance and it is now I believe a great time to redress the way in which painting can be seen interactively and its fundamental linking in process with sound and music. I recently took part in a performance/conference at the Royal Academy of Music whereby film was played of my working with musicians and then one of the works  was interpreted as a graphic score. Some members of the audience were perturbed by the temporality and ephemeral nature of the performance and the piece of work left at the end. Someone said that I was  “deconstructing the Greenburgian Aesthetic” which I have been thinking about since. In my last performance I decided to destroy a piece after working on it  which drew a collective gasp from the audience, and now for this, the whole work will exist for just the performance. A sort of Exhibition which is created for one night, for one night only.

Painting with it’s sometimes old fashioned connotations is often put in its own static category…. almost as if it acts independently on its own apart from installations, sound art, Conceptual and other sometimes rather unhelpful categorisations. Throughout my career painting and in particular Abstract painting has often almost been seen as… almost sometimes a bit behind the times and static . It is where painting becomes interactively one and the same, crossing all defined boundaries where it continues to and will always interest me. The performance will I hope… as my recent work is doing is attempting to reveal the temporal qualities of painting and the capturing of time in sound and music.

Performance at Modern Art Oxford

POSTED: 09/8/11 3:18 PM

Performance at Modern Art Oxford, 7.30,13th September 2011

“Two Hours Only”, Performance Painting. A performance in the upper galleries by Mark Rowan-Hull with contemporary composers Roger Redgate and Emmanuel Lorien Spinneli exploring gesture, movement, time, colour and the interactive process of painting via performance to improvised and looped music – recreating the artist’s own experience of ’seeing’ music.

POSTED: 08/12/11 2:32 PM

Experimenting with the I Pad 2.

Just this week I have been introduced to a magnificent new app for the i.pad which I will definitely be using in a performance next month.

It is based on Ligetti’s piece Artikulations of 1958 and this app could have been made especially for me and for my way of working. It allows me to put down a colour however simply, and or Gesture to create an immediate notation, and then to layer on top of that.

I actually did this successfully in a performance at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz club a few years ago now , with the Virtuoso trumpeter Gerard Presencer who played phrases of which I painted to and to which were then looped via an effects pedal.  Gerard then interpreted this and then I visualized it in turn, producing an exciting layering effect.For more revcent performances too, I have sort of been doing this inside my head, looping passages and working on them organically. I really believe that this app will really open up a new way of producing and I am in touch with the developers of the app to see how it can be enhanced for performance. All very exciting.

visualisations from latest performances on Perspex and Canvas.

As I have mentioned in these pages, I have been starting to play the keyboard to illustrate ideas in my workshops and so now I feel it is now time to bring my own improvising into performances and to perform with the I Pad  and with music with paint and see what unfolds.

Also I have been listening to the magnificent Autechre’s freeform Oversteps lately which I feel for some reason goes tremendously well with some of my Perspex pieces.

I have been experimenting with putting different musics as well as visualisations together too, after seeing a website which put together visualizations of Ligetti, Autechre and Reich. By accident I played them all together and it sounded fantastic . In the privacy of my studio I have been trying this out together with juxtaposing my own work to diverse music’s and even lights and materials and am thinking about this as a way of displaying in future shows.

Performance work 2011

Canvas and Perspex

POSTED: 06/30/11 10:53 AM

Seeing Sounds on Black.

The last month ended with an exciting performance, where for the first time I worked on a Black background and also destroyed a piece during the performance.  The piece I destroyed in some ways felt like a sort of renewal and I then went on to work from Black to colour, and I feel that now I have become a new Tenaebrist. Perhaps  more importantly, I have been experimenting with different sounds and sonic variants to produce work.

Performance with Tibetan Bowls and a Lupophon.

Lupophon painting

The use of black was influenced by the fact that when I experience colours when listening they appear to float in mid distance and this I thought could be achieved better by using black as a background. I had also been looking at the magnificent black paintings of Pierre Soulages recently and the most effective show I have seen of late was the magnificent Anthony McCall in Ambika P3 which had beautiful light cones in the dark. I have also been looking at the radiant light in nature a lot recently too. Also one of my favourite pieces of music is Charles Ives’s Central Park in the Dark where Colours float and sounds are evoked through the darkness. All these thoughts crossed my mind as I started to lay on marks and gestures to the sounds of the quite extraordinary and spectacular sounds of the Lupophon ( New Bass Oboe) and Tibetan Bowls.

Wolfson Performance

After the performance a member of a largely academic and intellectual audience noted that the Perspex pieces which were painted within a more traditional western manner reminded him of Oskar Kokoshka (whom incidentally I love) whereas the ones painted with Tibetan Bowls contained a Calligraphic element more akin to Eastern art. This has made me since think about how Art History is so ingrained in our brains and to how, although my work is very much tied up with the moment, unwittingly it also carries this weight within.

Speaking of Tibetan sounds I have recently been introduced to the wonderful work of Elaine Radigue, and there has just been a recent festival of her work in London. Some of her work has adventurously taken place in one of my favourite  magnificent London church’s tucked away in the centre of London. This particular one St Stevens Walbrook has an altar by Henry Moore and Kneelers by Patrick Heron. All my performances have been site specific and as you can see in sections of this website have taken place in very differing spaces such as Churches, Cathedrals concert halls, Jazz clubs and Art Gallerys, and I am keen to explore this in a more sonic way in future work, making performances which also become a meditation on the space as well as time.

POSTED: 06/29/11 9:40 PM