Wednesday, 16 June 2021

Rhapsody in the Park


Rhapsody in the Park

A strange thing happened to me the other day, walking through my local Amsterdam Flevo Park, where every blade of grass, leaf, blossom, flower was celebrating the fullness of summer in all its glory. I sat there sketching, drinking in the many greens and the variety of deep shadow colours, then started "seeing" flashes of many other colours. This was becoming a kaleidoscopic experience, an intense celebration of nature and of life itself. 

I wanted to sing, but I had no lyrics. A song without words then, a song of dancing colours. I really had to make a lyrical painting, throwing care aside and choosing intuitively from my palette, following my emotions. I found myself painting in a state of rhapsody. Like a musical rhapsody, a spontaneous free-flowing chromatic work. Yes, I went back to the studio and put on Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue, to develop this rhapsody in many colours. 

Rhapsody in the Park, watercolour, 65 x 45 cm. June 2021

Of course I've revelled for years in the emotional power of vivid fluctuating translucent colours, painted on glass and shared with the public via my overhead-projectors. Here's the link to my blog of January 2019: The joy of lyrical painting, written before my final performance of lyrical-abstract paintings on stage with musicians. I can't paint those live any more, so I'm now looking for new ways to express the magic of colour on paper.  

Monday, 31 May 2021

A young artist waiting for the music


A young artist
waiting for the music to start

I'm standing in line outside Door 11 of the Royal Albert Hall in London, hoping to get a cheap ticket for the BBC Proms Festival, standing room only. According to my sketch, it's September 9th.1953 at 6.15 in the evening. The programme is Mozart and Schubert, with soprano Elizabeth Schwartzkopf and Adrian Boult conducting the London Philharmonic, no less. 
I was a mere twenty years old, celebrating my graduation with a First Class Honours in Painting from the Birmingham College of Arts and Crafts, as always with a sketchbook in hand and a fountain-pen for linear notes of composition, colours and tones, although in this case they never resulted in a painting. I'm surrounded by excited music-lovers with a glimpse of the structure of this grand temple of classical music with Hyde Park in the distance, I believe. What are my prospects? As a young artist in 1953 I had no idea how my life would unfold.
Even then, I was already searching for a way to combine my love of painting with music, to figure out some sort of Gesamtkunstwerk (audio-visual synthesis). But it was going to take me a decade or so to find a form, develop my preference for watercolour and to utilise the kinetic flow of watercolours and the freedom that my brushes could offer me. 
My move to The Netherlands in 1957 and the resulting exposure to European culture has had a lasting influence on my life. I began to zigzag across the world, organising around 40 exhibitions of my work, painting hundreds of portraits, including those of world renowned musicians, collaborating with some of them in audio-visual performances, appearing on television and in festivals in South Korea, France, Germany, Austria, Belgium, Norway, Finland, Switzerland, Holland, Lithuania, Dubai, the USA, the UK and in particular my birthplace Birmingham. Already, those extraordinary journeys seem a long time ago.

Sixty-seven years after the above photograph, I painted a self-portrait in Amsterdam during the 2020 lockdown, contemplating the years gone by. Did I really do all that? Here's the Link to my comments on that painting.

I can't help reminiscing on the extraordinary nature of my artistic life, a roller-coaster of excitement, hopes and also some disillusionments. Although rather proud of many projects, there is still a sadness about the creative ideas that failed to find form and production. Sometimes this was just bad luck, bad timing or my network of colleagues and agents moving on, factors that had nothing to do with the quality of the proposals. Then, in the mid-seventies, the world became flooded with an obsession for all things digital, so organically foreign to the joys and sensual beauty of my analogue brushstrokes. Here's the Link to a blog from 2017: Analogue is alive and well.

Now approaching eighty-eight, I'm missing the interaction and discussion with other creative minds and the challenge of a new production. I especially miss the adrenaline rush of painting live to the music on stage. Even though the inner need and ability to create is still there, the need to slow down has inevitably become a reality that I'm trying to accept. Today's watercolour is inspired by a view from the spot where Rembrandt made one of his many drawings along the riverside of the Amstel. Perhaps I too am searching for new perspectives, as I round each bend of this quiet flowing river through the bustling city of Amsterdam. 
Searching for water-music, watercolour 60 x 49 cm. 2021

The 165 blogs, A Life Painting Musichave become my memoir and are easy to access in the right hand column. Hopefully, there will be many more!

Sunday, 17 January 2021

The Big Move

The Big Move

After thirty-five years living virtually in a treetop in Amsterdam South, I've now moved to an apartment that has a wonderful view from the ninth floor over the treetops of the East-side park. It's been a emotional experience, having to say goodbye to a gracious house, built in 1914 near the Concertgebouw, with so many happy and sad memories, where my children grew up and where their mother died. She played in the Concertgebouw, where I also painted live kinetic images to many concerts, so it became our second home.  


The move meant down-sizing, saying farewell to my favourite tree outside the window, to innumerable archives and documents, contracts and proposals for exhibitions and performances worldwide, all written or faxed on paper, many of which were successful and some that sadly never came to fruition. At eighty-seven, I look back nostalgically on a very long career, about which you can read in my blogs at

All went well! I'm now living in an Amsterdam apartment block for retired senior citizens, in a quarter where the streets are named after the colonial Dutch East Indies. My address is Kramatplantsoen, Kramat being a small town in Java with a chequered history, but also the term for the burial-ground of a highly-placed person. Duly noted. I've discovered that it only takes me three minutes to climb the nine flights of stairs. 

Artists don't know the meaning of retirement of course. We have an inner need to create, for as long as we can hold a paintbrush. My studio and commissions await, but after this exhausting process, I first need a little break. Here's the fanfare of colours to which I awoke on my first day. Yes, it was a good move.


Monday, 31 August 2020

CBSO celebrates 100 years

CBSO celebrates 100 years!
The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

I was born in Longbridge Lane, Birmingham in 1933, in the shadow of the Austin car factory where my father worked. That year Hitler came to power and seven years later he was sending his bombers to hit Birmingham’s industrial centres. Fortunately by then our family had moved to the safety of rural Worcestershire (where the sauce comes from).

After the war, in 1949 I returned to Birmingham at the age of sixteen to study painting at the College of Art and to marvel at the grotesque bombed ruins - fascinating sketchbook subjects. By the fifties, with no money for lunch, I would be popping over to the free lunchtime concerts at the Town Hall by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, where the charismatic Viennese Rudolf Schwarz (who had miraculously survived two Nazi concentration camps) was about to become chief conductor. Thanks to this Maestro and the CBSO I got a significant introduction to classical music – a new world of inspiration was opening up to me that would characterise my life’s work. I began to wonder whether I shouldn’t have studied music. But my instrument was already the paintbrush.

Decades later, the old war-scarred industrial city of Birmingham was changing into a dynamic cultural centre, with a splendid new Symphony Hall for the CBSO. My association with some of those changes and the story of my life painting music was recorded (in 1993) in a fifty-minute documentary for BBC Television: Concerto for Paintbrush and Orchestra. It linked my paintings of great musicians to the sound of the music that inspired them (so that you heard the painting, as it were), then continued with a live performance of my kinetic painting with the CBSO, conducted by Simon Rattle. 

A clip from the 1993 BBC documentary "Concerto for Paintbrush and Orchestra"
And now, on September 5th 2020, to celebrate the Centennial of this world-famous orchestra, Sir Simon is conducting a concert in, of all places, a warehouse in my birthplace in Longbridge! The concert will be live-streamed for all.

After the 1993 televised highlight twenty-five years went by, before my meeting with the new Music Director Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla led to another CBSO collaboration. She agreed with me that The Sea by the legendary Lithuanian artist/composer Čiurlionis (1875-1911) would be the perfect work to combine with my fluid lyrical painting, as a total work of art. After forty-five years of live performances worldwide, this concert on February 16th. 2019, appropriately in Birmingham Symphony Hallwas to be my swan song.

CBSO playing the 2019 UK premier of The Sea by Čiurlionis, with my simultaneous live paintings on screen.

I feel so grateful that I can, with considerable nostalgia, scroll through a lifetime of associations with the CBSO and that I found the opportunities to make portraits of four of their Music Directors in full swing, Simon Rattle, Sakari Oramo, Andris Nelsons and Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla. 

 Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla conducting Mahler 1 with the CBSO in 2017. 
Watercolour 1491 x 1428 cm.
N.B. The CBSO has been nominated for the 
Gramophone Orchestra of the Year Award. Vote here for your support before Sept. 7th!