Friday, 11 December 2015

A climb in progress

A climb in progress

I'm looking out over a vast alpine landscape, with a plan in my mind for a large oil painting of slowly moving dark shapes, strung out across the space. A painting of a mountain climb in progress - where each foot or hand is patiently put in front of the other, in the right place at the right time. A audio-visual contrast between the small sounds of personal exertion, the grappling with the rock, the sound of progress and of the spacious silence in rising clouds of mist.

From the early sixties onwards I spent much time in the mountains to make paintings, teach, ski, climb and eventually build a chalet at 1300 metres, on the edge of the Swiss village of Leysin. For about five months of the year you had to cope with snow, ice, wind and mist, learning where to put your feet, where (not) to drive your car and how to gauge the weather conditions. Sometimes you were at the mercy of nature. A salutary experience.
                                                The view towards my chalet in 1968
My painter's eye became fascinated with diagonal lines dissecting my view. Diagonals suggest movement; and my new painting will also reflect this characteristic of my early work.
"Skiers disappearing over a hill-top", 1966. 
I knew Peter Rae as a student in Switzerland, and when he and his wife Helle Johansen-Baker recently saw some of these early works, where rhythmic shapes crept, zigzagged or danced across my canvasses, they were inspired to commission something similar. So I needed to get back up into the mountains, to sense that space again and do some active research, so that the painting would express a physical experience. 

It was extraordinarily emotional to find myself back in the same mountains where I had lived fifty years ago! It so happened that I even got to see "my" chalet, now inhabited by others, the tiny saplings I had planted around it now towering high or even decapitated. Would it be like this to return from the dead and discover that nature just goes on without you?
Meeting  mountain guide Steve Jones
Heartfelt thanks to my kind guides and mountain climbers Hilary Boardman-Rhodes (who helped me scope out possibilities) and Steve Jones (who roped up for some good demos and useful impressions). I of course didn't do anything hazardous. My struggles began back in my Amsterdam studio (below sea-level) for many hours of setting up the composition, then covering this large canvas in various ways, with my mind still full of those heady vistas. My composition is about the importance of balance in positioning. And balance is certainly something a climber relates to. 
                             A climb in progress. Oil on canvas, 90 x 130 cm. 2015.

If you stand right in front of a canvas of this size, you have to move your head left or right to take in the grandeur, perspective and depth of the landscape right and centre, then tilt your head upwards to take in the difference in altitude from your point of view in front of the man in the foreground putting on his climbing shoes. So you have to “get your head around” the rhythms and contortions of a very physical activity, as you follow a sort of strip cartoon of the progress of this climbing adventure. It might look a bit humorous. As my wife quickly pointed out – er, there isn't enough room for all those people on the peak, and who is roped to whom? The set-up probably breaks all the rules. Still, it gives room for the imagination! My son said it made him think of those old communist posters, where strenuous muscle-power is combined with the message “United, we can do it!”. Actually a professional climber pointed out that the queues on climbing routes really are beginning to look a bit like this.

Quite apart from any imagined story, I wanted to really integrate the men and women into the landscape and into the rocks, so that they become almost abstract elements as part the whole. I also hope you can hear the music echoing round that valley and in the twisted irregular rhythms, beating their way up to that pianissimo peak.
Altogether, this project became a most thought-provoking and fulfilling experience spanning time and space. Am I one of those climbers? If so, the decision on which one depends on whether I'm having a bad day :). My thanks to Peter and Helle, who visited my studio this week to view their new painting. They were thrilled, moved and delighted.

Friday, 20 November 2015

Live: Musik und Malerei

Music and Kinetic Painting 
Musik und Malerei in Konzerthaus Berlin

It gives me great pleasure to announce a concert of kinetic painting and discussion with violinist Daniel Hope and pianist Sebastian Knauer in Konzerthaus Berlin, on April 25th 2016. One of seventeen concerts to pay homage to Yehudi Menuhin at the centenary of his birth in 1906. I'm touched and honoured by Daniel's invitation to take part in this historic celebration. Ever since I met Yehudi in 1963, he was very supportive of my work, became a dear friend and the first great musician to ask me to perform live paintings - to his performance of Vivaldi's Four Seasons, filmed for French Television by the legendary Bruno Monsaingeon in 1979. 

Now Daniel, after his lifelong personal friendship with Yehudi, has wondrously brought us all together again in music and painting - with William Walton's Violin Sonata, commissioned by Yehudi in 1947.

How timely this celebration is, in our troubled times! Not only was Yehudi Menuhin perhaps the most renowned violinist of the 20th century. He was a great humanist and philanthropist, campaigning ceaselessly for human rights and international understanding. He was the first world-class Jewish artist to play in Germany after World War II, as a statement of reconciliation. Until his death in Berlin in 1999 he believed in the unifying powers of music and in using it to change society for good.

Daniel is following in his footsteps. His fascinating books (in German) Familienst├╝cke and Sounds of Hollywood include accounts of how his ancestors in Berlin and many musicians fled the horrors of the Nazis. And how many of those musicians who migrated to the USA contributed to the creation of the special "Hollywood-sound" for the films of those years, music full of both sadness and hope.
Chatting with Yehudi Menuhin at Symphony Hall Birmingham in 1991
Daniel unites the three of us in my Amsterdam studio
A old clipping from the Luzerner Tagblatt in 1971, when Yehudi opened an exhibition of my paintings at his Gstaad Festival.

Here's the link to the concert Live; Musik und Malerei 
in Berlin on April 25th. See you there?

Sunday, 18 October 2015

My Memoir

My memoir on sale at 
 Symphony Hall Birmingham

I'm looking forward to being back in Birmingham on Wednesday October 28th, to autograph copies of my memoir A Life Painting Music and the new Norman Perryman Collection of fine art prints and greeting cards of a selection of my paintings of famous musicians. You will find Valery Gergiev, Andris Nelsons, Luciano Pavarotti, Bryn Terfel, Bernard Haitink, Yehudi Menuhin, a young Simon Rattle, The Mahler Experience and more.
The Symphony Hall Collection started in 1990 after a conversation with Director Andrew Jowett about my passion for painting musical subjects. His commissions to paint some of the musicians he had programmed for his first season eventually led to a collection of twenty-eight large watercolours and the 200 x 160 cm. canvas The Mahler Experience that illustrates my book cover. But my memoir also describes the making of many other works inspired by musical encounters worldwide. Each one has its own tale. Read my book to get the whole story!
For the next six months, you can purchase any of these new products exclusively at Symphony Hall, place orders at or phone +44(0)1216445144. Watch this space for alternative sales locations later next year.

On 28th you will find me in the foyer, during the afternoon, before the evening concert and during the interval (but not after the concert). 

Sunday, 4 October 2015

Creative freedom in 2015!

Creative freedom in 2015!

If you can't read this, turn it anti-clockwise. 
It says, of course, 
Creative freedom in 1990

On my New Year's card of 1989/90, my long splayed brush was not just painting graffiti on a wall - it was my own simple way to slash through the Wall of political and cultural prejudice, to freely calligraph a message of optimism, a call for creativity in whatever language you speak, write, paint or play or sing. 

In November 1989 the Berlin Wall came down and we were all carried away with excitement about the consequences. That first celebration of German unity in Berlin saw Rostropovich playing the Bach Cello Suites and Bernstein conducting Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, changing the words from Freude! (Joy) to Freiheit! (Freedom):

But twenty-five years later the message must still be writ large on walls everywhere.
Think creatively! 
Out of the box? Through the wall!