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Colour & Music Blog

Capturing Time

Last week I became aware of an exciting event via Twitter whereby you could ask a question to an artist. I had received a fascinating response to my question to the artist Marina Abramovich via the Lisson Gallery  about how important time was to her and that she preferred pieces that were tremendously long in duration (the longer, the better. )This week it was the great Artist and filmmaker Julian Schnabel whom I asked if the practice of painting effected the way in which he made films and if the capturing of Time was as important in both. He gave the fascinating reply that “In an excellent work of art, time ceases to matter, and the only time that exists is the time that is IN the work and the time you spend with it…and art (and film) whenever its made, brings you into the present moment you see it.

Finger painting on Canvas

Fast passage from Edward Cowie's Kandinsky's Oboe

This fantastic piece by the great contemporary composer Edward Cowie, was written for and performed by Christopher Redgate. By painting in performance to this piece I was reinterpreting sounds interpreted from painting.

Last night I went to a lucid and stimulating talk by Eric Clarke who is the professor of Music at Oxford University and I thought about this in connection to when he talked about music’s ability to sharpen our cognitive mind.  Music has the ability to bring us into the moment yet it is all about time.

The capturing of time within a performance is the focus of my work at present I am very aware of this when intensely listning to the complexity of certain music and capturing a colour, shape, gesture or textural quality. When the music has gone what I am left with is the traces of it, yet somehow it exists as something. A great friend and wonderful writer kindly pointed me to a poem about poetry by Wallace Stevens which he was reminded of during a performance I gave recently and the words describe this quality most beautifully.

“An instrument, twanging a wiry string that gives Sounds passing through sudden rightnesses, wholly Containing the mind, below which it cannot descend, Beyond which it has no will to rise.

Be the finding of a satisfaction,and may

Be of a man skating,a woman dancing, a woman combing. The poem of an act of mind.

POSTED: 05/20/11 10:41 PM

“I am Nature”

I live in a wood…. my studio being next to one and each day when I am here I walk around it. It is to me like living in a natural art gallery, and almost an extension of my studio, I walk round it, play music in it and marvel at it and today it sounds like the sea.  When people come to visit my studio, I always take them around the wood or it feels as though I haven’t shown them everything. I am beginning to introduce my work into the wood and visa versa now and am experimenting with how work looks from a distance and how it appears as part of nature.

I recently took a writer into the wood behind my studio … I could feel his discomfort as this strange artist he didn’t really know took him without explanation further and further into deserted woods and  it was at this point where he was reminded of  the film “The Stalker” by Tarkovsky of which I have recently become completely obsessed by, (together now with his film about the great Russian Ikon Painter “Rublev”. ) In Stalker  there is the wonderful  “Dream” sequence, which involves photographs and things appearing then disappearing in water. There is another scene where the characters sit and watch a passing shower, a scene, which I experienced first hand while mowing grass. I sat waiting for a heavy May shower to pass which it did, leaving bright sunshine, the smell of fresh cut grass and drips glistening in sunlight. It was like entering a paradise.

Some of my favourite works of art ,poetry and music are related to woodland, Ucello’s , Samuel Palmer’s wonderful moonlit etchings, John Clare’s poems and the work set in nature of Ian Hamilton Finlay also Messiaen’s studies of nature and birdsong (well documented here) and one of the great books I have recently read is about woods and our relationship with them by Roger Deakin.

As the great Jackson Pollock said, dropping the paintbrush in favour of dripping… “I am Nature” and Klee’s famous line remarking that he was “taking a line for a walk”….suggest to me that visual art practice can become part of nature itself… not in a forced kind of way but a most fundamental crossing of the senses.  Walking around the wood each day constantly remind me of the flux, and effects of time. Nature is shifting and changing all the time and I believe that the greatest of art suggests an oneness with nature and can translate to another artform, like the constant flux of light on leaves and lichen in a wood.

Returning to  Pollock, I will always remember walking with a great poet at the Tate retrospective of his work who said that  Pollock was not just a painter, he was a poet, and that all really great artists went from one artform to another.

To my mind, all great music becomes visual and visa versa all the time.  The cross sensory responses I experience are and can in fact be experienced in nature, art and music by all. Just this weekend I ran a workshop where I played the piano to explain paintings, that were produced and in turn provided stimulus for new work, a sort of layering effect. It was a great experience making music after all these years  making images, and I am now tempted to go back to all my paintings using this process.

POSTED: 05/12/11 9:25 PM

Asides on a Lupophon

This month I am collaborating with a virtuoso Oboe player and guitarist  on a performance which will  build upon work I have done in the last year exploring  the ways in which the processes of painting, composition and improvising. This time it will be with the brand new  instrument the Lupophon (Bass Oboe) and Tibetan Bowls as well as the newly designed oboe (the first redesign for over 200 years) I have always been intrigued by the Oboe, and it was my always my favourite instrument when very young. I loved the way it was so hard to play, and the way that on recordings (the finished paintings of music) you could hear the p…p …p of the sound being produced.

There is a great poem by Wallace Stevens who wrote some lovely poetry about music and art including one called “Asides on an Oboe” to where this quiet quality of power is alluded to.

I have also always been drawn to the power of quiet improvising as well as classical players such as the frail beauty of Art Pepper, Dinu Lipatti, the squeezing out of a note of Miles Davis  (A child once described his sound as that man who couldn’t get out of a cupboard) and the quiet  harmonic beauty of Bill Evans…I could go on.

Anyway the quiet contemplative nature of the oboe with another of my new favorites…. the classical guitar, for which interestingly not much modern music has been written, together with the sonic beauty of Tibetan bowls and the sounds of paint on Perspex will be a great treat for me.

POSTED: 05/12/11 8:46 PM

Scene and Heard

A couple of weeks ago I took part in a conference at the South Bank Centre, as part of their Ether festival called ‘Scene and Heard” an innovative conference organized by Third Ear focusing on the fertile area of the sound and art and “Collaborations.” There were many interesting speakers particularly from arts organizations and art bodies.

After many hours of hearing about various collaborations with organisations and performance targets , funding issues and other such matters there was a session where artists and curators talked about the things they were involved in. Finally Sandra Naumann took to the platform talking excitedly and fluently and with great passion about “I see a sound” a magnificent show, which I unfortunately missed and took place a few years ago in Linz. Suddenly I realized why I was there!

It was wonderful and thrilling to hear someone speak in such depth about the area of which I find so fascinating and that I feel so passionately about, and to which not much has been theoretically explored or written…about the profound ways in which visual art crosses with music and visa versa, and I am very hopeful will provide a source for new a new partnership and enquiry. Many years ago I went to a brilliant conference, at the Royal Academy of Music taking its name from a brilliant book by Simon Shaw Miller called the “Visible Deeds of Music.”and subsequently organised some events there myself.

It is conferences like this that played a big part in getting me together with like-minded people whom I have since collaborated with. My collaborations, which are such an important part of my practice past, present and future have all been borne from a mutual passion for the fundamental linking of Visual Art and Music. So I look forward to more Scene and Heard’s.

POSTED: 05/5/11 10:09 AM

Music and Art. Performance.Tuesday 31st May.Wolfson College,Oxford

A performance exploring visual art, improvisation and the capturing of time via improvisation with Christopher Redgate Oboe, Lupophon and Gerald Garcia Guitar/Tibetan bowls.

POSTED: 05/3/11 12:37 PM

Tableau Vivent’s,Live Streaming and Assemblages.

I am intrigued by the idea of Live Streaming, and am planning to experiment with this over the coming months. I am already active on Twitter, but also think it would be great to stage some live performances from my studio in the coming months, and involve my practice via social media networks also using Soundcloud for new sound pieces.

Morning Light in Studio

Early morning Sunlight.

Studio Ephemera

Painting on Perspex competed in performance with Amit Chaudhuri.

So much more than the final performance and paintings go into my work, and I would love to try and bring all the processes to the foreground this year. Apart from anything else, my studio is the hub of all that goes on in performance and is becoming like a Tableau Vivant where things happen and events take place, music is played, paintings happen, general experimentation occurs. It is in constant flux and is becoming an art object in itself, sometimes reminding me of a Cardiff/Bures Miller installation or a strange museum and sometimes I even feel that I am in a Tarkovsky film.

There are knapped flints from Suffolk, a gift of gears from a formula 1 racing car and coffee tins piled high with a candle on the top. There is also a sort of shrine, which has collected coloured boxes and ephemera and many of my paintings and collages are suspended like Tibetan prayer flags, almost for me becoming like devotional objects to particular pieces of music.

Photograph taken by a friend Mary Heneghan on a retreat in Tibet

POSTED: 04/1/11 2:25 PM

Hearing/ Seeing Light and Colour.

Throughout my career I have always been interested by both the experience of colour (in my case often associated with chords and patterns of notes) but also the physical appearance of colour, the effect of colour via light and the meaning of colour and I am currently still reading fascinating books on the history of Colours. Although a lot has been written about colour, there are not  that many good books on colour generally. I am also fascinated by Medieval Colour Lore of Colours,  of which hardly anything has been written. The two stand out books broaching the subject of Colour are John Gage’s Colour and Meaning, and Colour and Culture. For me the different experiences of colour came together in a performance a few years ago in Liverpool, where I painted underneath a huge lantern of magnificent colours shining through stained glass, to colour based music and colours I was producing live via performance.

For my most recent performances I have painted (to use other’s descriptions) musically fired forests of colour on Perspex, which have been almost exotic in colour. The colours can be experienced in different ways in the performance and on Perspex I can achieve the effects of transitory colours in space, similar to what I experience when listening to music.

Musical Perspex

Summertime with Amit Chaudhuri.

Now I am looking at ways in which I can achieve this effect via exhibiting my work, looking at the work of Seeper and United Visual Artists who create huge and sometimes interactive displays involving all the senses.

I have also recently as mentioned before been looking into the use of lasers and have visited Professor Simon Hooker’s lab in Oxford where amazing colours are produced via high powered lasers known as Frequency combs. This last month I went to see an extraordinary exhibition involving light by Anthony McCall where entering a darkened space to be confronted by cones of what almost looked like steel sculptures but were actually made from projected light. The light slowly moved creating slowly moving shapes on the floor, which were mesmerizing and had a rare and beautiful simplicity. This is something I would love to achieve in my own work.

POSTED: 04/1/11 1:45 PM

Hearing Visions and Musical Windows in my Studio

I have recently been spending a little bit more time in my studio and am lucky enough at last to have a big space in which to look and listen, although nearly all my imagery now is done in performance and in the moment. For writing and ideas in general, coffee shops are my favourite places and these also operate like studio’s and places of contemplation for me.

My most recent piece I have produced in my studio is a window placed on top of a painting produced in a performance. I recently showed some work in Sheffield where some pieces I faced outwards on the windowsill. (I also displayed paint pots used in production) making the process of the paintings the focal point.

Looking in from outside I became fascinated by seeing the finished pieces from the outside but not inside the gallery.I reconstructed this recently in my studio (not a coffee shop.)

I have long been fascinated and have a deep love for the work of Andre Thomkins and particuarly his weird, unworldly Lackskin works of which I have mentioned before in these musings, and have been enthralled by a film which I saw in Picadilly a few years ago where the process trancends the final piece, not unlike the infamous Pollock/ Hans Nemuth film but I suppose working more tentitavely and organically sometimes directly with sound.

Much of my work is now on Perspex and I have surrounded my studio with these pieces which almost take on a stained glass appearance, in what Seamus Heaney named “shifting brilliances” painted during various performances and placing them amoungst things and various objects I have collected over time which appeal to me and also, interestingly even placing them with vastly different music and changing their context. Juxtaposing moments captured behind a window of time.

POSTED: 03/17/11 11:51 PM

Life Stories Workshop, Wolfson College.

7th May 2011.


Drop in multi mediaWorkshop to produce work for an exhibition running from the 26th May 2011

POSTED: 03/16/11 9:59 PM

Correspondence Interactive Workshop

Here is a lovely  description of the workshop I ran late last year by a participant, the writer Erin Soros.

Documentary photos

If it weren’t for the length of our bodies and a few wrinkles and grey hairs, we could be mistaken for an absorbed bunch of kindergarten children, all of us sprawled on the floor, happily painting swirls of colour in response to notes played on a guitar.  The interactive workshop, titled ‘Correspondences,’ was an opportunity for artists, musicians and writers to explore the relationship between music and art.  It attracted participants from Oxford, where it was set, and visitors from across England, many of us living in the UK but originating from far-flung spots—India, China, Canada.  The workshop coordinator, artist Mark Rowan-Hull, has mastered an improvisational style of painting, on stage, to live musical performance.  He began the day by explaining synesthesia—a neurological linking of the senses.  Some people with this condition see specific colours in relation to letters or numbers.  Rowan-Hull sees colours when he hears notes.  What might we see?  He set out canvas and paper, gouache and acrylics:  we were to translate music into colour and shape. A responsive dance.  The musician Gerald Garcia began playing his own compositions on guitar and Tibetan bowls.  How unusual, and yet simple:  the room filled with the resonance of plucked notes, the accompanying scratch of our brushes. Bending and lifting arms. Heads cocked with intent. We created artistic dialogue, canvases startling in their differences—some featured vibrant colours and energetic swoops, while other paintings were delicate, shading tentative, as if seen through rain. One included single words, dropped like splotches. None were directly representational—no birds, no bells.  Instead, the evocative patterns evidenced a new way to hear.  Try it, the next time you are moved by a concert on the radio:  take a piece of paper and some pencil crayons, and let your hand do the listening.

POSTED: 02/17/11 11:56 AM