Sunday, 26 March 2017

More paintings you have never seen (3)

Paintings you have never seen (3)

It's not even signed, but this study (acrylic on canvas,130 x 80 cm) has the spontaneity of an experiment, full of the excitement of a 1987 commission from the Netherlands Ballet Orchestra as a gift to the Netherlands Dance Theatre in The Hague. The new theatre (sadly now demolished) had a very wide stage of 18 metres. Merging representation and abstraction, I wanted to show the relationship between the conductor and musicians in the pit (lower right), and the dancers who come leaping on to the stage after waiting in the wings (right) then moving off (left). 

The black vertical line is the first indication of my wish to have the dancers "break out of the box" in some way. That eventually resulted in a decision to divide the painting into panels, like irregular stepping stones, or rather jumping stones, a rhythmic design telling its own story, floating free from the wall.

A major inspiration for this painting was Jirí Kylián's Sinfonietta (to the music with the same title by Janáček). Choreographed in 1978, this great work became a cornerstone of NDT's repertoire. And Jirí (who celebrated his seventieth birthday this week) became a major inspirational force in my watercolours with dance throughout the eighties, like this one.
Sinfonietta, watercolour and oil pastel, 50 x 70 cm, 1986/87

Here's the first photoshoot of the mural, acrylic on board, seven metres long, freshly installed in the Netherlands Dance Theatre in 1989. Yes, that's the dancers' studio mirror below. 

(Photo: Ben Vollebregt)

You can find my story of the glorious years working in the NDT dance studios in an earlier blog: The Case of the Lost PaintingAll eight sections of the mural are now safely in storage in my studio. How wonderful it would be to exhibit it somewhere again!

Friday, 24 March 2017

More paintings you have never seen (2)

More paintings you have never seen (2)

Revelling in the organic unity of mist and watercolour, in the sixties, seventies and eighties I spent much time in nature, painting outdoors when possible. I enjoyed making these spaces and shapes my own, usually focussing on the horizon and the subtle undulating rhythms, like pianissimo whispering sounds. 

One of my quiet vistas from Vancouver Island in 1986, allowing my watercolours to change with the weather moods.

After a climb, the gaze back down the road to a small town in Burgundy, nestling in its misty autumn valley. Ah, I can still taste those wines! (1983)

The endless minimal music of Venetian gondolas, as they wait, bobbing their irregular overlapping rhythms behind the San Marco cathedral. My paper was sodden with moisture. Too bad I don't have a colour photo, but the watercolour is almost monochrome. (1972).

The fence poles pace out my walk along the dyke of one of the quiet Frisian lakes. Poco a poco diminuendo. Was it in the summer of 1978?

Monday, 20 March 2017

Paintings you have never seen (1)

Paintings you have never seen (1)

You can see over 150 paintings on my website ( But hundreds of other works have never been seen online and may remain unseen forever in my archives. So while I still have the chance, I would like to share with you what is for me a rather poignant retrospective selection. I look back affectionately on some of these early or immature works that show my search for development during well over half a century. A few are still in my studio, but most are in private collections worldwide, so they may never be exhibited. These include oils and watercolours, not only of musical themes and snapshots of live kinetic painting in performance, but also landscapes, portraits, and paintings of dance. So here goes:

I met the young cellist Edith Neuman in The Hague in 1965 when she was playing briefly in the Collegium Musicum Judaicum. Shortly afterwards she started her career in the Concertgebouw Orchestra. I asked if I could paint her and she took me to her attic room in Amsterdam and played the Bach Suites for me, as I started on the 80 x 60 cm. oil painting (above). This lively impressionist painting was made by a young man who has obviously fallen in love with his subject. I was thirty-two, she was twenty-two. But I was married and fortunately she had other ideas. My only option was to make another painting, more thoughtful and well balanced. Already, in these works from 1965 and 1966, you can see my early interest in placing silhouetted shapes on a diagonal in space. After he opened my Gstaad Festival exhibition in 1971, Yehudi Menuhin stood for the longest time in front of No. 2, asking "But who is she?". Good question. She's a remarkable woman.

Twelve years later Edith became good friends with my second wife, Vivian King - depicted (below) with a new kind of freedom in watercolour. When my beloved Vivian tragically died, Edith bought her cello and is still playing it today, with much joy. What a world of emotion is encompassed in these three paintings!

Vivian King, watercolour 70 x 50 cm. (detail), approx. 1979

P.S. I wish I knew where Edith No. 1 is now. Paintings get passed on and you lose track. 

Saturday, 25 February 2017

The Joy of Analogue

Analogue is alive and well!

That means you and me too. We are analogue beings, not digital. The fluid organic energy that courses through our bodies and brains is analogue (definition: "a continuous spectrum of values"). By contrast, the products of digital tools: images and sound-systems etc. are synthesized from separate bits of information. An image becomes a conglomeration of pixels, dots of coloured light. Gone is the sensual, personal touch, the breathing, the subtle fluctuation, the emotional involvement. It's not the real thing. Yet we're all now stuck with digital technology, even addicted to it. 

I was delighted to receive a recommendation of David Sax's delightful book The Revenge of Analog: Real Things and Why They Matter.  I can't resist quoting from the blurb:
"A funny thing happened..... we've begun to fall back in love with the very analog goods and ideas the tech gurus insisted we no longer needed....Moleskine notebooks, vinyl records, photography with film and real tangible shopping have become cool again."  Remember when "browsing" wasn't an activity on internet, but a physical tactile experience of space and time in a venerable book or clothing store? Well, it seems that such experiences are still a real need. Bookshops are on their way back. Kodak and Ferrania are starting to make celluloid film again. Unbelievably, Vinyl records sales are outstripping all other forms of listening to music - except of course sitting in a real concert venue. 

Of course digital is here to stay and sure, it's very useful, clever, informative and so on. Sax is not pleading either/or, but signalling a refreshing development that has more respect for our individual emotional and physical needs and is even commercially successful. 
The luscious feel of a brush swimming in powerful colour with a percussion performance.

Why does Sax's book intrigue and excite me? Because I have been clobbered over the head for twenty years with the dogma that only digital technology can save the world. I have suffered from the prejudice against my soft-edge, slow-moving kinetic images, simply because they're not digital. And now, to my and everybody's surprise, small markets are redeveloping worldwide that cater to our need for things that we can touch and that feel good; things that are much more satisfying than digital imitations. I'm a sensual man. I like slow jazz, yoga and a good massage. I like the feel of the brush and pencil in my hand and on the paper. I love the hypnotic floating of my kinetic water colours, that seem to have a life of their own and evoke a certain nostalgia because the images are ephemeral. Could it be that these liquid colours revive pre-natal memories for my audiences? 
It seems that I am not alone. "Retro" is trending - the very personal discovery of stylish quality goods that remind us of the good old days, in contrast to a surfeit of mass produced stuff that has become boring. The fulfilment of selecting and holding something with special associations. The sensation of putting a needle on a record, of turning the pages of a book. Actually my kinetic painting is not strictly retro, because I've never stopped performing the art form that I invented in the seventies. 
Water slowly creeps over my brushstrokes, irresistibly eroding and consuming an ephemeral backdrop.  A kinetic painting performance, made on analoque overhead projectors for Huang Ruo's Written on the Wind with pipa and vocals. This was a huge projection for live viewing in a real concert hall, but admittedly this digital version on YouTube reaches a larger audience. Here's the link. Part 1 takes 7 mins, so you will need to take time. Don't worry - taking time is good for you!

In the very same year that the first experiments were being made with digital imaging (1973), I was experimenting with a perfectly good analogue apparatus (the overhead projector) in a school where I was teaching in Switzerland. Later I heard that Joshua White in New York (whose light shows are still going strong), was also fooling around with the psychedelic effects of colours that expanded with the heat of these projectors, as decors for the shows of Frank Zappa, Janis Joplin and others. This soon became the reference norm for anybody I told about my performance work, with the assumption that naturally, I too was more interested in psychedelic experiences at that time. In fact, totally sober, I was looking for specific visual equivalents to certain classical and contemporary music that would literally provide insight into the structures, moods and rhythms of the music and would draw a younger generation into a love of these art forms combined. Pop music was ahead of me here, but classical music was slow to get the message.
The Dutch Circle Percussion ensemble flooded with my colours as my brushes twist and leap in synch to their rhythms.
It was ironic (and distressing) that as the new digital rage developed, my analogue attempts were seen as old hat. Even though some visionaries like Yehudi Menuhin and Simon Rattle saw the light, there was no stopping the new mindset, cleverly offering the prospect for anybody to become a photographer or digital designer (glossing over the question of whether you had anything to say, with your new toys).  Sadly, today this means that tiny kids are often given a mini audio-visual tablet, before they have barely experienced the joy of holding a pencil to draw and write, the visceral sensation of making their own marks by hand and the excitement of sketching ideas, feeling them "coming out of their body". Some of the greatest ideas that were later put into a computer, were first sketched, scribbled and shared on a paper napkin. Now, get out your sketchbook, reach for a nice soft 2B pencil.... there you go.... ah, the joy of low-tech!
One of my very first little ideas for a kinetic painting, like automatic writing to music sketched on paper at the Gstaad Menuhin Festival in 1964.

My wonderfully analogue performance gear, being set up for a performance in the Amsterdam Concertgebouw. The technical staff said: "You've got to be joking! Don't you have a computer?" But afterwards they told me that they were totally blown away by the kinetic images.