Monday, 25 June 2018

How does it feel to be eighty-five?

Norman, how does it feel to be eighty-five?

Well, I don't believe it. I'm puzzled that so many other people get old, but this comes as something of a surprise. How could this happen to me? 

Perhaps a little reflection is appropriate, but it's a long story. I do feel amazed, thankful, frustrated, a little proud, disappointed and from time to time totally thrilled, even though I feel an accumulation of sadness as I lose more and more of those whom I've known, loved and painted.
I'm the shy country boy on the left, with the Hitler haircut (It was quite fashionable in those days). Dressed up for a party in Mum's home-tailored clothes.

Amazed that, despite having being born in 1933, when the Nazi regime achieved absolute power, I've survived a world war; and more recently that I've survived the daily hazards of cycling to and from my studio with (or against) 850,000 other Amsterdam cyclists; that I've made the transition from a shy Worcestershire country boy into a cosmopolitan artist; and have been enriched by so much intense love; and that I get such spontaneous joy from the surprising beauty of kinetic painting and music combined. A therapy guaranteed to keep me young.

1949 first-year Art College show. At the age of sixteen, I make my "stage debut" as a baker dancing with a cream puff and a cherry cake. Goodness, these chicks must now be in their late eighties!

Thankful to my parents who despite their reservations, against all odds set me on the road as a creative artist; for the blessings of the wonderful people I have known and loved, including my children and grandchild; for my good health and the energy to still be fully active creatively; to my body for responding so well to my simple morning exercises. Just thirty minutes and he feels ready to start each day. 
A very sad and serious period in my thirties, reflected in many paintings in black, greys, white and dark browns. The explosion of colours came later. 

Disappointed that despite my parents' assurance that if you work really hard you will be "successful" (meaning in the working class aspirational mind-set that you will become rich), I failed. I worked my butt off, still who knows, before I really get old....? 

Frustrated because, despite some wonderful projects at the highest level, I have failed to interest more producers in the many more creative projects in my head, particularly those that relate painting to music. Ah, so many great ideas that will never come to fruition.
Chatting with conductor Simon Rattle at Birmingham Symphony Hall during the filming of the 1993 BBC TV "Concerto for Paintbrush and Orchestra"

A little proud that I have worked creatively with some of the greatest artists and musicians of my generation; that I have touched the souls of many with thousands of ephemeral kinetic images and tangible paintings; that I chaired the creation of the Visual Arts Programme of the International Baccaureate, insisting on art education conceived from a world perspective; and that I could pass on my convictions to innumerable students; and oh yes, that I have managed to earn a living as an artist.
Setting up in Essen Philharmonie on June 23rd.

Yes, but Norman, how do you feel right now? Well, rather tired, after months of intensive work to create kinetic paintings non-stop for seventy minutes, for a new German version of Stravinsky'sThe Soldier's Tale, in Daniel Hope's Essen Philharmonie Gala Midsummer Night's Dream on June 23rd. But thrilled that my own Dream came true on 24th., Midsummer's Day, my eighty-fifth birthday.

At midnight the after-party of this performance with Daniel and his superb ensemble suddenly turned into my birthday party, with a rousing "Happy Birthday" from everybody in the production, led by the baritone Benno Schollum. I've never felt such deep collective artistic fulfillment and generous expressions of love after a performance, where we all gave of our best, to a standing ovation - simply unforgettable. Unexpected birthday surprises during last week were also multiple proposals to work together creatively. So rather than feeling that "it's all over now", I feel re-inspired. 

Happy fathers, with my son Chris and the very young, undoubtedly talented Joe Perryman

Of course I have no intention of retiring, whatever that means. It's not in an artist's vocabulary. The creative spark is still very much there, but naturally everything demands more focus, more careful planning and choice of priorities. Naturally? Oh yes, I forgot. I'm supposed to be eighty-five. Really?
(Photo Marjoke Haagsma)

Get the whole story on my blogs going back to 2012, or from my website:

Tuesday, 29 May 2018

A New German text for Stravinsky's Soldier

Première of a New German text 
for Stravinsky's "The Soldier's Tale"

It's such an honour to be invited to create live kinetic paintings with such eminent artists as bass-baritone Thomas Quasthoff (Narrator), the amazing actress Katja Riemann (the Devil) and of course the indefatigable creative spirit Daniel Hope (violin and the Soldier) and ensemble, all directed by Leonhard Koppelmann with the text-writer Peter Jordan. We are just one part of June 23rd Gala programme in Essen Philharmonie entitled: Ein Sommernachtstraum: Heimat (A Midsummer Night's Dream: Homeland). Check that link.

I've performed  this piece several times before - here's another Link to my blog from a Stockholm performance in 2014. The original story conceived by C.F. Ramuz in 1918 is well-known, but this totally new German version of The Soldier's Tale by Peter Jordan has inspired quite a number of new kinetic images. The stills without the story-telling and music are nothing more than teasers. 
                                        Marching on the zigzagging roads home
Stravinsky's score is alternately humorous, wistful, crazy and full of irony. It seems to me to reflect the visual art style Cubism, where the subject is fragmented then re-structured as geometric forms, seen from multiple viewpoints. Stravinsky must surely have seen Picasso's early Cubist works in Paris, ten years before he composed The Soldier's Tale in Switzerland in 1918. By then the first signs of Art Deco were also taking shape and this awareness had an influence on my designs and cut-outs, through which my mysterious and ever-surprising fluid paint flows.

On home-leave just before the end of World-War 1914-18, the Soldier trudges along a long and dusty road, takes a break (the Petits Airs) and encounters the Devil who persuades him to exchange his violin (his soul) for an illegible book that nevertheless makes him unbelievably rich. We feel the Soldier's hope, disillusionment and despair. 
My brush for the Devil with his illegible yet enriching book
Petits Airs
On hearing that the king's daughter is terribly sick - possibly from listening to the Devil's violin playing - the Soldier heads to the royal palace, retrieves his violin and using his musicianship as therapy, get's the Princess to open her eyes and dance with him to Tango, Waltz and Ragtime. It's a long story and of course the Devil wins in the end.
The Royal Palace
The deadly ill Princess
Towards the end of the "Petit Concert" the Princess starts to open her eyes
The Soldier's Tale is the Essen Philharmonie finale of a festive Midsummer Night's Dream. Especially magical for me, because all being well, the morning after, on Midsummer's Day (June 24th) I celebrate my 85th birthday. What a wonderful birthday present. Thank you Daniel! 

Wednesday, 9 May 2018

Painting The Sea

Painting "The Sea" 
with Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla & the CBSO
February 16th. 2019

I'm delighted to share the announcement of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra that in February 2019 I shall be making kinetic paintings live in concert to The Sea, by the Lithuanian composer/painter M.K.Čiurlionis (1875 -1911), conducted by Music Director Mirga Gražinyte-Tyla in Symphony Hall Birmingham. The date for this UK première is now confirmed as Saturday February 16th. 2019, which by the way is Lithuania's Independence Day.

It's still a work in progress of course, but here's the Link to my first 4-minute Trailer on YouTube for a few quick glimpses of the beginning and the end of this twenty-nine minute work.   

And here's the Link to my blog from last September - Serendipity: Mirga, Norman and Čiurlionis, written after I had done some serious research in Lithuania on the audio-visual work of this prodigious creative spirit. Čiurlionis had a significant influence in early abstract art, symbolism and art nouveau and became a cultural legend in Lithuania. As a synaesthete, he was so finely tuned to the correspondences between visual art and music, that had his life not been tragically cut short at the age of thirty-five, I'm sure he would have become one of the composers of early film music. At last, in 2019, I shall be creating the movie to his music. Music that is ideally suited to my flowing colours. 

Čiurlionis probably had Chromesthesia, as I do. I'm not going to copy his paintings, but rather create my own kinetic flowing images inspired by my own automatic involuntary reactions to his music. How wonderful it would have been to meet! You can imagine that we might have embraced as brothers.

Mirga's concerts with the CBSO are regularly sold out, so here's the Link to book your concert tickets early (from June 4th. for general public). After all, this concert has a somewhat unusual added visual attraction! It's been twenty-five years since I performed with the CBSO in Symphony Hall under Sir Simon Rattle, televised by BBC in 1993 as Concerto for Paintbrush and Orchestra. Born in Birmingham nearly eighty-five years ago, this is quite an emotional milestone in my career in visual music and I shall be thrilled to be back in Symphony Hall.


Saturday, 7 April 2018

Portrait of a dear friend

The arts and science of communicating

Cees Hamelink: world-renowned Emeritus Professor of Global Communication, esteemed author, jazz musician, collector of my art works, theologian, dear generous friend, a politician's nightmare, devil's advocate, media critic and globe-trotter with a wicked sense of humour, is a brilliant educator whose tutorials have become legendary.

How can you possibly try to compose a portrait of such an erudite and many-sided personality? I asked him how he would like to be portrayed and remembered. Without hesitation he said - as a teacher. So I asked him to give me a tutorial during our "sitting", actually making life quite difficult for myself, in that he would be moving non-stop around the studio, talking with hands and heart on the passion of his life - global communication. 
Prof. Cees Hamelink. Watercolour 70 x 49 cm. 2018.

 So here he is in action: a fairly relaxed professor, thoughtful, raised eyebrows always questioning, his friendly eye-contact full of wisdom and humour, using persuasive body language, his sensitive hands conjuring up surprising truths, then firmly giving shape to untruths.  No notes of course - his thought bubble is bursting with ideas. I've tried to paint this watercolour with a freedom that would suggest his dynamic energy, but here and there I had to zoom in for some precise details. Don't you wish you could be one of his students?

I met Cees back in 1974, when we were both resident in Geneva. I had just painted my large watercolour and ink impression of a performance in Geneva of the world hit Misa Criolla, sung and played by the Agrupación música Ariel Ramirez. I was blown away by the variety of Latin American rhythms, instruments and voices that were to dictate the tiny textures, deep bass notes and floating echoes of the magnificent voices of this passionate group. It was one of my early attempts to include graphic rhythms in my paintings. This one immediately became the first of Cees' large collection of my work. Turn the sound up for the full sonorous bass tones, enlarge the picture, then click on this link to hear what this painting sounds like. Misa Criolla.
Misa Criolla, watercolour and ink, 69 x 99 cm. 1974.

I wonder whether Cees could have imagined that, forty-two years later, he would marry a wonderful Mexican lady who cheerfully carries such rhythms in her heart and soul. 
Gabriela Barrios, watercolour 62 x 45 cm. 2016