Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Say yes!

Say yes! Say yes! You know you want to!

The brilliant script by C.F.Ramuz for Stravinsky's The Soldier's Tale is so perceptive of human nature, so terribly familiar. How we identify with that poor Soldier and his failure to withstand "the wiles of the Devil".  
"Give me your fiddle" says the Devil. "No". "I'll give you this book for it then". "Can't read", says the Soldier. "H'm, this book's not easy to understand. Market quotations for Friday the 20th? What day is today? It's Tuesday the 17th. Why, this book tells you things before they happen! GOLD! .....Alright then - it's a deal!"                     
The Soldier has sold his soul to the Devil and becomes unbelievably rich. I have everything, he thinks, I always will. Or do I have nothing? One day his new partner the Princess (the one he brought back to life with his music therapy) says: "I know so little about you. Tell me about yourself." "Well, it all started a long time ago, There was a cottage I used to share with my mother - far, far away". "Suppose we went there", she says. "No, it is forbidden". She looks at him and smiles and says: "You want to, I can see you do". Say yes, say yes!" (Oh no, here we go again).
They're on their way, they're nearly there. He has gone on ahead to find the frontier (against the rules).
At that moment we hear the Devil laughing. He has the violin again and begins to play. The romance vanishes into thin air and the Devil performs his final Triumphal March.

It's not such "a long and dusty road" to the O/Modernt Festival near Stockholm. Why, the performance of kinetic painting with l'Histoire du Soldat is on Tuesday June 17th! Untold audio-visual riches! It's a deal? Say yes! You know you want to.
Click here and here for earlier blogs on The Soldier's Tale.

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Songs of colour

Songs of colour in the eighties

The nineteen-eighties were a golden age for my work. Paintings of dance, music, landscapes, portraits and nudes. Teaching summer schools in Burgundy while enjoying a bottle of Chablis - such happy times! My paintings echo those emotions and that energy. In addition to many watercolours, 1983 and '84 saw the creation of several large 120 x 80cm. oils on canvas. A return to the joys of vivid colours and the sensual delight of smearing the juicy oil paint with which I had learned to paint at art college. 
                                         Colin Carr, oil on canvas, 120 x 80, 1983

Music and movement were my trademarks. But why not move away from the time-based arts for a while? At Birmingham Art College in the fifties, we students spent day after day drawing and painting the nude model - an obligatory requirement for your Diploma. It was an excellent discipline, working directly from observation while learning how to use the potential of the medium for personal expression. Thirty years later those skills were still deeply ingrained and could be put to use again. 

In the eighties a period of intense exposure to the colours of music and dance gave me the urge to celebrate colour in the nude (er, well no, I wasn't in the nude). I had some really strong models for this project. I also had the inspiration of my hero the musical Matisse, not to mention the Fauves. With these models I had all the time in the world and, even without a musical subject, I found colours that could sing. Oh, the joy of oil-painting! The bulk of my oeuvre is painted in watercolour (with some notable exceptions), but I do sometimes miss oils.

Saturday, 17 May 2014

Filming my Mahler Experience.

 The Mahler Experience - Symphony Hall

I've just got back from two intensive days, filming my paintings of musicians and musical subjects at Birmingham's Symphony Hall - now a collection of about thirty that goes back to 1990. (Click on this link for the whole story). The Dutch film-director Dick Kuijs (Castus Productions) is making a documentary film for Dutch television (and others) about the story of my life painting music - a story that started during my childhood many years ago in Birmingham. It's become rather a long story (!), much of which is told in earlier blogs.

Telling this story to camera is quite hard work, as every painting has its own story, many with emotional associations. I also had to dig deep into fond memories of post-war Birmingham, the College of Arts and Crafts where I studied painting and of the Town Hall (where Mendelssohn, Dvořák, Grieg and Elgar performed) where I would skip lunch to listen to free lunchtime concerts by the CBSO. In my second year of college (1950) I was just seventeen and this was virtually my introduction to orchestral classical music. It swept me off my feet, leaving me wondering whether I shouldn't have studied music. Well, my instrument became the paint-brush.
Birmingham College of Arts and Crafts, as it was called in the 1950's, built in 1884.

We art-students also spent lots of time sketching the bombed-out ruins of Birmingham, already overgrown with weeds and waiting for a renovation that only truly reached its cultural resurrection in 1991 with a superb new Symphony Hall. I was there for that opening concert, when Simon Rattle conducted the CBSO and Chorus in Mahler's Symphony No.2 (the "Resurrection" Symphony). My painting (acrylic on canvas, 200 x 160cm.), hanging just inside the Symphony Hall entrance, is an ode to the amazing acoustics, designed by the late Russell Johnson. The painting is so large, that as I stood at my easel I felt I was standing inside the hall, with my brush conducting those clouds of majestic sound zigzagging up to the hanging ceiling to merge with the architecture. Below are a few snapshots of "the making of" in my studio in 1993. First  brushing on very thin layers of colour, then pulling the architecture into focus where necessary and getting the proportions right. Then getting the painting to "sing", which is always my aim. It was a tremendous experience.

The Mahler Experience - Symphony Hall.

Sunday, 11 May 2014

On the way

"On a long and dusty road"

We are all on our way to something - to get rich, to find the person of our dreams, to get recognition, to reach retirement (what is that, I wonder?), to achieve inner peace, to find happiness - forgetting more often than not the Buddha's adage: Happiness is the way, and the statement of Jesus: I am the Way. Be in the now...... 

Well, I'm never happier than when I'm on my creative road - the "Way of the Brush"(as in Shodō), even though I'm creating something that will disappear within minutes. I'm spending hours in my studio, practising for a live visual performance of Stravinsky's The Soldier's Tale, tweaking my designs and the choreography of my brushes, adjusting the colour mixes. ("No Madam, I don't just make it up as I go along, but if it looks that way, thanks for the compliment"). It's a long road to the Stockholm festival O/Modernt and it's a long piece (about an hour). The more conservative visual art lovers are perplexed - surely an artist is supposed to reach a destination, concoct a final product to have and conserve? Yet my "product" is an ephemeral performance of kinetic painting that comes and goes, then disappears, as the music does. Nevertheless, watching an artist continuously on his way may turn out to be a priceless, unforgettable personal experience, with many surprises. "Someone trudging on and on, Many, many miles he's gone. Over hill and dale he goes, Where's he heading? No-one knows" (Stravinsky/Ramuz).

Here are a few new stills from this kinetic work for June 17th., where Alexander Oliver will play the Narrator. My brushes will play the Soldier, the Devil and the Princess.
The Soldier, marching on a long and dusty road, stops for a drink at a border inn. There he learns that whosoever can cure the king's sick daughter can marry her!

   I've done a quick scan of the Princess's illness. Yeah, she's sick all right - you can see the disease spreading.
Will the cards bring him luck? Oh no, there's the Devil again, leaning in the doorway and sneering. Gamble, and get him drunk! The Devil brush wobbles, lurches, then crashes - and the Soldier can snatch back his violin, to give the Princess a little music therapy. It works! As he begins to play - she opens her eyes - and begins to dance - the tango, waltz and ragtime. As we don't have a Princess: my brushes do the dancing - it's something they do naturally.