Saturday, 6 August 2022

The beautiful solitude of nature


The beautiful solitude of nature

My pilot is flying his De Havilland Beaver seaplane close above the small islands and inlets off Vancouver Island, bending and weaving his route northward, with only an occasional tiny ferryboat below. Sitting in the cockpit with a sketchbook on my lap, I'm sketching frantically with a thick pencil, breathless with the beauty of this unique viewpoint, one that changes every second. We are alone, communing with nature. Westward is the vast Pacific. I feel so small and intensely aware of the ephemeral nature of human life on our beautiful planet.

In the summer of 1988 I was on Vancouver Island to give workshops. I stayed at the chalet of my dear friend, the excellent Victoria artist and art educator Fleming Jorgensen. He got me that flight over the islands. (I was not to know that his colleague, the watercolour artist Toni Onley, who flew his own sea-plane in search of inspiration, was later to crash into the deep). But we were then on a high with creative plans; he was intensely enamoured of a lovely Brazilian lady, so I dashed off a portrait for him in an hour or so. But their love was not to last. Fleming too has passed. I miss him and many other friends from those days.

Fleming Jorgensen                           A Brazilian lady

In my Amsterdam studio, I recently rediscovered those urgent sketches made thirty-four years ago and was overcome by acute nostalgia. So I decided to re-live my amazing experience in those ever-changing aerial views of nature, in the form of two semi-abstract watercolours. By freely creating islands of colour nestling in the deeps and shallows, I rediscovered the beautiful solitude of nature. I dared to let my watercolours flow and bleed organically, naturally forming their own textures and patterns. I heard the floating sounds of music: woodwinds, shakuhachi, bass saxophone and Tan Dun's water percussion. 

  Solitude above Vancouver Islands, watercolour, 43 x 62 cm. 2022

In the second painting my tiny seaplane further explores those monumental peaks and depths. We briefly touched down at the foot of the background peak for a ten-second splash in that icy waterfall. That really took my breath away!

Exploring heights and depths of Vancouver islands, watercolour 66 x 46 cm, 2022



Saturday, 2 July 2022

A fond farewell to my piano


A fond farewell to my piano

In 1974 I lived in Geneva, Switzerland and I was looking for a cellist to participate in a film for Télévision Suisse Romande featuring my kinetic painting with music and dance. Someone mentioned the American cellist Vivian King, who was then studying with the great Pierre Fournier. We made an appointment. I was about to ring Vivian's doorbell when I heard the sound of the Bach's Cello Suite Nr. 2.  I was enchanted.

In Vivian's apartment I noticed a rather nice Zimmermann piano. Curious, I tried a couple of bars of a Beethoven sonata. Oh, Vivian said - you're also a musician! Well, that's a long story. That was the beginning of twenty-one years of making music together.

In 1978 we settled in Amsterdam, near the Concertgebouw, where Vivian began to play regularly. The piano was hauled up (with ropes!) to our fourth floor apartment and that's where our sons both learned to play the piano.
Vivian and Norman playing Francœur's Adagio for BBC

When in 1993 BBC Television was visiting to make a documentary about my life making kinetic images to music, Director Jonathan Fulford said spontaneously: "Hey, why don't you guys just play something together?" Oh no! I had been so busy working in the UK and Amsterdam on the film "Concerto for Paintbrush and Orchestra" with Simon Rattle that I hadn't touched the piano for months. But Vivian said "Ah, why don't we do the first Movement of the Sonata by François Francœur. She knew it by heart and somehow, with just two takes, I managed to get through it. 

Vivian was already ill with acute leukaemia and tragically, she died three years later at 51. Her cello was acquired by our dear friend, the cellist Edith Neuman (formerly of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra). In 2021 I moved house and had to radically downsize, so I donated my piano to a lovely crowd-funded socio-cultural centre in Amsterdam - Pondok. It was a fond goodbye, watching it going down to street-level with a piano lift, but I knew it had found a good home.
Yesterday, after twenty-six years, my piano and Vivian's cello were finally re-united. They made music together at a little concert by the Meander Trio. And yes, with pianist Jenny Hess, Edith played that Adagio of the Sonata by François Francœur.... in memory of Vivian. It was a deeply emotional occasion for me and my boys.
     Edith Neuman (cello) and Jenny Hess (piano) reuniting my old friends

Here's Pierre Fournier with the Francœur on YouTube.


Monday, 30 May 2022

An exploration


                          An exploration

My previous painting (see "Forever in the clouds") was to be one of a series. But my brushes came up with other ideas. My freely-brushed deep purple zigzag strokes, fading into mauve towards the horizon below, turned into an optimistic calligraphy taking us way up into a vast space. 

Then a kind of sadness came over me. Was it the worldwide tsunami of negative news - becoming unbearable in my old age? My only comfort was to be found in my palette of colours and my brushes.

So intuitively I gently began to surround my initial strokes with pastel greyish greens, blues and pinks, helping the pools of colour to float and meet up in space. I began to develop small dynamic conversations across the whole picture. Bit by bit, I was modulating from a minor key towards light and hope, even in the darkest tones. I was determined to find beauty in my sadness.


                                                  An exploration, watercolour 62 x 45 cm, 2022

So this is not just another cloudscape. It's an exploration of spaceEnlarge the details: you might find some lovely little surprises. 

Friday, 20 May 2022

Forever in the clouds

Forever in the clouds

I'm in my studio, inspired by the soothing flow of Ragas, melodic structures, considered in the Indian tradition to have the ability to "colour the mind" and affect the emotions of the listener. 
I'm in the Flow
so totally involved that I forget the time, 
fully immersed, as I paint pools of watercolour
 that you might call clouds.
My coffee gets cold...
The Vietnamese Buddhist monk and master of Mindfulness, Thich Nhat Hanh, the activist for world-peace who passed away in January 2022, was convinced that human Mindfulness and compassion is a continuous positive state of mind that we can develop, share with others and pass on to future generations. It doesn't disappear when our body disintegrates. The energy that we have shared will take on different forms, just as rain or snow are other forms of ever-changing clouds. Our messages have no digital limitations. They are forever universally available as part of the Cosmos.

Forever in the clouds, watercolour 51 x 42 cm. 2022