Friday, 17 February 2017

Multicoloured creativity with Daniel Hope

  Multicoloured creativity with Daniel Hope

In these dark days, it's so good to be collaborating again with the endlessly creative violinist Daniel Hope, who brings colour into our lives by combining art with music and in a thousand other ways.

Daniel's new album For Seasons is due to be released on March 3rd. and it was great to get an advance copy in the post yesterday. Daniel has chosen a watercolour of mine from 1989 to accompany the month of June with the Barcarolle from Tchaikovsky's Seasons. My painting was inspired by Nacho Duato's modern dance work Arenal, created for the Netherlands Dance Theater - the dancers' wide skirts flung into the summer heat.

1989 was an amazing year for me creatively. In addition to making many paintings of dance, I also co-created a ballet with kinetic painting for the Netherlands Dance Theater. When I sent the video to Simon Rattle he suggested we work together, culminating in a BBC televised performance with the CBSO in 1993. My years with dance are described in earlier blogs - Here's the link to one of them.
Daniel has long been interested in various Gesamtkunst forms - effectively combining various art disciplines to create music-theatre. I was thrilled to hear that I'm to be featured with kinetic painting to music in the 2017/18 Season of Daniel's Zurich Chamber Orchestra under the theme: Art is in Residence. Watch this space for details!

Already programmed is a performance of Stravinsky's l'Histoire du Soldat for June 23th 2018 in the Essen Philharmonie. The evening before my 85th birthday. What a great incentive to stay creatively active!

Thursday, 5 January 2017

Dancing rhythms

Dancing rhythms in landscape

In the early sixties I was always looking for lines or groups of people, trees, buildings, windmills that would form shapes to dance across my canvas. I kept the colours dark and the backgrounds pale, to emphasize these shapes, bundled up, twisting and turning in space, balancing strategically in the composition as it were on a rope stretched from side to side. Reminders of my hobby as a student of walking on a slack-rope. But undoubtedly also a reflection of who I was in those days: unhappily married, struggling to stay balanced, looking for the way out. (That would come later, with explosions of intense colour). All the oils below were painted on canvasses of of approximately 80 x 60 cm. 

The windmills of Zaandijk in the icy winter of 1962

Snow was useful to provide contrast, but I employed the same arrangements in summer landscapes. As I look back at these early works, I hear the musical rhythms and tempi of these organized seemingly kinetic forms, forceful sounds fading to a whisper on the horizon or escaping off the canvas. Those sharp irregular chopping and sawing sounds of woodcutters in the snow made modern music, with two very quiet final notes provided by a couple of tourists, standing still.
Woodcutters in the snow, Blatten, near Zermatt, Switzerland,1963.

The quiet adagio of a Jeu de Boules in Carpentras, Provence - only the rustle of plane trees, the crunch of gravel, murmured commentaries and occasionally a sudden clack! 

Jeu de  Boules in Provence, 1963.

The twisting lakeside road through Weggis (Switzerland) from which you have one vista after another across the lake (cue horns?) - a dancing line full of surprises.

Lakeside road through Weggis, Switzerland, 1965

The clatter of skis being put on, skiers climbing sideways with staccato edges in the snow, then rhythmic rasping sounds, fading away as they disappeared over the edge of the mountain. Every skier knows those sounds.
Skiers, 1966.
Maybe there's a framework here for a composition of five movements.  Who could put this to music?

Friday, 9 December 2016

My Mahler Experience

The making of 
The Mahler Experience 

A few weeks ago, with over two thousand others, I was shuffling towards the exit of Birmingham's Symphony Hall, slightly dazed, the sounds of Mahler 1 still going through my whole being. Mirga Gražinyté-Tyla had just conducted the CBSO in another fabulous concert. They brought the house down!
We pass by my painting The Mahler Experience - Symphony Hall. "Look", a woman in front of me says to her group, "I think that may be Mahler 2, with Simon Rattle". "That's right", I mutter. "Are you sure?" "Yeah, I painted it". The crowd comes to a standstill. "You painted it! Hey, he painted it!" Handshakes all round. I find this reaction rather amusing, but it happens every time I'm in Birmingham. A group of teenagers is hanging around. I try not to feel prejudiced about their demeanour. One of them eventually approaches me and says: "Sir, I just have to tell you: that painting changed my life. I now love classical music". A novelist wants to include the painting as the sublime emotional experience of her main character. Could we do a photo in front of the painting? And so on. I feel rather happy for all of them, but strangely, it's as though some else painted it, long ago in the history of art. Everybody wants to know more, but I want to say to them "ah, you should see the next one that I'm working on!" (Watch this space).
The 1993 commission came from Mike Dernie of Midlands Electricity, then one of the main sponsors of Symphony Hall. Mike was a member of the CBSO Chorus. (You can just make him out in the back row). He became a good friend and I'm writing this for him, in appreciation of what he did for me and many thousands of viewers in the last twenty-three years. He drove over to my Amsterdam studio to collect the finished work personally in his van. There was no suitable wall to hang it in the entrance mall, so they built a fake one. Now the painting gives you a glimpse of the Hall without going inside and a glimpse of the experience that might be yours if you a buy a concert ticket.
People often ask "how do you start?" The inspiration came from two experiences of hearing Mahler 2 (the so-called "Resurrection" symphony), first at the opening of Symphony Hall in 1991 with Simon Rattle conducting the CBSO, then later with Mariss Jansons. I made a number of preparatory studies of course, but then standing in front of this rather large white canvas (200 x 160cm.) I felt dwarfed, aware that I had to do justice to the musicians and the Hall that I was about to paint. The awful moment of truth. I needed to hear the music, so I pressed the button, Mahler 2 blasted out full volume and I was away, going with the flow of those first transparent washes of acrylic. This was to be an ode to the architecture and superb acoustics of one of the best halls in the world. The perspective of those irregular curving shapes was a challenge, but it was sheer joy to paint that cloud of floating sound, zigzagging upwards, spreading across the adjustable ceiling, every sound enhanced by the expertise of the legendary acoustician Russell Johnson (1923-2007). His acoustic design determined the architecture.
Here are a few more shots from my diary, showing some of the developments and changes :
 Cards and prints of this work are on sale at the Birmingham Symphony Hall Gift Shop.

Friday, 2 December 2016

The Philosopher

The philosopher of the piano

One of the early commissions for the Birmingham Symphony Hall Collection, in 1992, was to paint Alfred Brendel. I portrayed him as the learned philosopher of the piano, searching for and expounding profound issues in music, gazing into space, with his characteristic raising of the eyebrows, listening intently as he attempts to elevate us to the sublime. His gaze, accented by the heavy line of his spectacles, follows the direction of the undulating rising diagonal line from his tails, past the little flourish of the far end of the keyboard, left of the sloping piano lid to the four soft clouds of pale blue in the top right of the picture.  The white surface of the keyboard provides a counter-diagonal, to balance the whole composition. 

In my painting, Alfred Brendel is a natural extension of his great instrument – altogether, quite a lot of black. So I've tried to give those blacks and greys transparency, floating them over the mists of subdued olive green which swirl around him. His Steinway seems to be loaded with gold. Between heaven and earth, at the centre of everything, are those sensitive hands, with poor battered fingers taped, creating magic. His left hand is rising after placing a majestic chord from Liszt's 'Années de Pèlerinage'. Can you hear its dying sound? Brendel conjures up the grandeur of the echoing mountains and the stillness of the lakes of Switzerland and Italy - scenes which I know well. So it was Liszt, rather than Beethoven or Mozart, for which he has such a reputation, that became one of the main sources of inspiration for this painting.

This watercolour took quite a bit of research. I had been part of Brendel's audience years ago, but I had no opportunity, before the deadline for this commission, to observe him closely in live performance or rehearsal.  This was long before YouTube! Then Brendel's record company, Philips Classics, offered me the use of some wonderful video material in which his Liszt recordings were interspersed with thoughtful introductory talks.  The inspiration was there! But unfortunately the setting and lighting in which the recordings were made were totally different to the concept and colours I had in mind.  So began a long process of sifting and transforming impressions, through three or four studies, before the final watercolour took shape.

Twenty-four years on, looking back at this rather serious painting, I reflect on how inadequate any attempted representation of this erudite cultural giant would be, with his love of literature, languages and art, his sense of humour and much more. After the Birmingham concert for which this was painted, we were commiserating on the bad reproduction of my painting in a local newspaper. "It's the same with a recording", he said, "you are never satisfied".