Colour & Music Links

Collaboration and Performing within Painting..

My own personal view, formed over a long period of time, is that the world of Painting  is not necessarily always a purely visual activity but is a whole sensory experience which often involves collaboration too. This is perhaps given credence by my own neurological experience of seeing Colour and thinking of painting very much as a whole with Music and in terms of sounds and movement across the senses. One of my earliest and most formative memories is of watching a watercolorist. I remember the excitement of watching colour spread across the wet white page. For me, It felt like playing a Chord on the piano.

My own approach to  painting is also very much as a participatory and transformative experience and over time I have learnt as much, and often more from working in workshops and with other disciplines than from working alone, and  in isolation.  I remember once in an interview I was asked why to me Painting in itself was not enough…why did I need music or poetry? At the time, as a young artist I was flummoxed and  did not know how to respond.

Now, if faced with the same question I would say that they were for me the same thing. Painting is Colour and Sound. Over time, some critics and audiences have responded to my work with difficulty,  seeing the disciplines very separately rather than tied as one. We learn to separate them as children and via education. It is a continuing issue for me. One  Critic at an event suggesting that it somehow made the painting unimportant , unvalued. Using the example of the New York school of  painters and and the painters whom spend much time deliberating over their image making. To me this seems a narrow approach to painting, with its emphasis on the final product rather than process and creation.It was suggested I should destroy my work at the end of a piece , Jimi Hendrix like. Painting in performance is something that is difficult for a lot of people, but for me it is about making a multi sensory painting, which like a jigsaw all fits together in the end.

Still from "Everyone you have loved" Painting Collaboration.

Performance Painting with Lavinia Cascone

Stuart Brisley has said “The very notion of Art itself has an aspect of Alienation about it”. I am always keen as he is, to lean away and avoid this and I believe that painting in performance with and amongst people is a great way of attaining this. For me it opens  a way of demystifying and  democratising painting too.

Throughout my career , my embracing of collaboration has enabled me to work alongside and work in with many Musicians, Composers, Dancers and Sound Artists all painters in sound and movement,  and has allowed me to think deeply about the connections between materiality and sound. It has helped my development as an artist. My work has become much more than the image produced . It is the story of the piece in itself and about the collaborative processes as a whole. The world of silent Studios, painting alone, the formalist qualities within painting and abstraction are not for me.  The painting that interests me more, especially at this time has a often sensory and transformative and the medium of painting itself becomes and often provides a platform or becomes a vehicle, therapeutic even,  constantly evolving and searching, and for me is a sensory exploration of the world and life as a whole involving different peoples experiences, and is enriched and advanced by working across different disciplines. At the time of writing, we can see these  advancements in a terrific show of Jean Dubuffet at the Barbican in London of whom collaboration was often an essential part of his art. Just recently I also see the most exciting painters today such as Cecily Brown and Julie Mehretu taking part in exciting collaborative projects. Just recently I also enjoyed Paul McCarthy’s brilliant performance drawings,  in collaboration with the actor Lilith Stangenberg. I also greatly enjoy the work of Florence Peake and Anne Imhof who also mix visual and music concerns with performance in exciting ways. Closer to home in the UK the artist/painter Oscar Murillo has been working on a project with Artangel with schools across the world.

If I  look back to History at artists such as the famous Abstract Painters in New York in the 1950’s for instance. The archetypal singular artists working in isolation, cutting their own path and seeking inspiration from within. It seems seldom that one reads or examines  the influences of free Jazz, Dance, contemporary Classical composition, Blues and of the visual, technological influences of the time, the visual music technologies of pioneers such as Thomas Wilfred, Oskar Fischinger, Jordan Belson, Mary Ellen Bute . Yet In my opinion this pioneering work profoundly affected and was indeed pivotal in pioneering developments in painting at this time.  At the time of writing, Mary Ellen Bute’s work is highlighted in a show at the Pompidou about Women in abstraction. I have spoken before in these posts about the work of Len Lye, for many years neglected whose abstract work prefigures and foresaw much of what came afterwards, and the other night I went to a wondrous evening of hand painted films at the Barbican called “Raw Vision” by pioneers in this field which highlighted to me just how important these developments were and still are for painting.

A few years ago also,  I became fascinated by, and immersed in the work of the Gutai movement and of the Vienna Actionists all of whom explored painting via movement and the body. At the time that I became interested,  there was just one book on the Gutai translated into English about this fascinating and now widely acknowledged influential movement. Much of this work was transitory, often time based and involving different disciplines.The effect of these movements is now thankfully noted and much reflected upon.

In the UK I have long admired the Painter/Sculptor/Artist Stuart Brisley, as one of the greatest artists living today who still amazingly and imaginatively manages to move between performance, painting and sculpture, using complex imaginative ideas and his body within his work. His work for me continues to be  groundbreaking, important and inspirational.  I have just been reading a great fascinating book of interviews “Performance and it’s afterlives”.

At this time…more than ever , I am excited by the act of painting. I  recently spent a great deal of time in Australia, where my son lives. I saw much great Aboriginal painting which very much involves itself with sensory perception, and now having spent so much time within that overwhelming continent, imagined to me over years and years artistically via poets such as Peter Porter and Les Murray and visual artists like Sidney Nolan, Arthur Boyd, Tracey Moffatt Shaun Gladwell and many others. I was surprised to learn that Aboriginal painting on Canvas is a relatively new history which continues to evolve and is taking place now .

This time I started to make great connections with and gain an understanding into how the native Aboriginal painting has become so integral to the continent, and is such an important expression of the land and the alternative histories of past present and future, which belong to the land  and is  articulated by a special awareness and importance of, the Human Senses. In particular I became fascinated by the work of Kudditji Kngwareye a member of the Utopia artists whose work conjures up a sense of the landscape he knew and had become estranged from. He apparently used to sing whilst painting to further bring about his memory and connection with the land.

Many years ago, I remember working in a Hospital with an elderly woman in rural Suffolk. I received a grant from Eastern arts to work in Rural communities to do so. This particular woman, was greatly mentally disturbed and without speech. I remember seeing her over a period of two years, each week. Each time, as soon as I mixed paint, sometimes playing music,  her eyes lit up. She painted for hours and hours on end, naturally and freely sometimes with and sometimes without me. It was as if she were communicating something deep from inside. I never forgot her amazing work. Now, long gone and destroyed. It was the sensory act, the great handling of paint and the colour and the act of which i remember. It lives on within me. It reminds me of the great story about Agnes Martin telling a child that a rose continued to be beautiful after it had been seen. Holding it behind her back she asked the child if it were still beautiful? and remarked that the beauty of it existed in the mind. In a world full of more and more imagery,  this seems so important to remember at this time.

I will be creating more work painting in collaborations and performances soon, (please see my most recent collaboration in the previous posts) further reflecting upon these thoughts and experiences and I hope continue to provide further agency to the importance of creating the space for  Collaboration, and the different senses within the subject of Painting.

August 3  2021.

Listning to.

Sault: Nine

Anchorsong- Mirage

Donald Bousted- Duo Contour 19.5

Sault- Black Is/ Rise


Amit Chaudhuri – Finding the Raga

Yuval Etgar- John Stezaker “At The Edge of Pictures”

The Stuart Brisley Interviews. Performance and its Afterlives.

Peter Macdonald -Artifacts of Writing.

POSTED: 08/2/21 12:00 PM