Monday, 11 April 2022

Rest in Peace


Rest in Peace

I'm lying on the massage table with my old aches and pains under the strong yet gentle hands of my holistic masseuse. For me she always puts on a CD of Ragas (in Sanskrit the word also means colouring), classical Indian music that affects our emotions and wellbeing. From the very first long tone I relax into what seems like a wonderful garden of continuously changing colours. For more than an hour I'm at peace with the world. If this were the very last experience of my life it would be a blessing. 

There, on my bed of colours, I suddenly realised how fortunate I am. I consciously sent my loving thoughts to all those now terribly unfortunate, to the tragically bereaved mourning the loss of their loved ones, young and old, wherever they may be. At that moment I was inspired to make this abstract painting for them, with vibrant but gentle watercolours, a paradise where their loved ones may rest in peace.


                                             Rest in Peace, watercolour approx. 65 x 45 cm., 2022.


Tuesday, 8 February 2022

José Carreras turns seventy-five


A great tenor turns seventy-five
The tenor José Carreras turned seventy-five on December 5th. and I have fond memories of my contacts with him. In 1995 I was commissioned to make a painting of him for the Birmingham Symphony Hall Collection, for a Royal Gala Concert on May 4th, to raise funds for the José Carreras International Leukaemia Foundation.

Against all odds, Carreras was cured of acute leukaemia in 1988. As he put it: "I was one of the lucky few". His recovery and his subsequent concerts to raise funds for research and awareness attracted global admiration. It was in tribute to his courage that Luciano Pavarotti and Plácido Domingo joined him in 1990 for the first of the famous The Three Tenors concerts.

José Carreras, watercolour, 84 x 56cm, 1995

Because José Carreras is a singer, everything revolves around his breathing.  Despite the swirling colour, José's characteristically extended hands give great stability to the painting, like the base of a pyramid.  Our eye is drawn up to where the apex of the pyramid should be, in the white space just in front of his open mouth, from which we expect to hear the sound of that powerful voice.

Uncannily, the timing of this commission coincided with the period when my wife, the cellist Vivian King, was in hospital with yes - acute leukaemia. The emotional pressure was enormous. Half the day at the studio, trying to finish the painting whilst expecting yet another phone call from the hospital, announcing a new crisis. José was a fellow musician whose survival was legendary.  He sent us his good wishes, and I played his recordings to Vivian as she endured radiation and chemotherapy, giving us courage, inspiration and harmony.  Think of Franck's 'Panis angelicus', Puccini's tragic aria 'E lucevan le stelle' (Tosca) and, in particular, 'Che gelida manina' (La Bohème). 

This watercolour was literally painted with many tears, completed and signed on the day Vivian received rich-red new bone-marrow, a day of hope which alas, was not to be fulfilled.

I felt the need to make a contribution to the Carreras fund for leukaemia-research, so in October 1996 I joined José Carreras, Amanda Roocroft and the Hallé Orchestra for a huge fund-raising concert in Manchester. I painted fluid kinetic paintings live to the music: Lara's "Granada", Dvorák's "Song to the Moon", Verdi's "Brindisi" and a whole range of popular classics, all for the good cause. The amazing Martin† and Gillian Lawson co-produced this unforgettable event and immediately became dear friends and fans.

Thursday, 16 September 2021

Misa Criolla

             Misa Criolla by Ariel Ramírez

This year marks the centenary of the birth of the composer Ariel Ramírez (1921- 2010), the great exponent of Argentinian folk music. He is known primarily for his wonderful Misa Criolla (1964) that made him world-famous, with the sale of millions of records. This sixteen-minute "Creole Mass" was originally sung and performed by local choirs and musicians with an element of improvisation, a lamentation in Spanish over genocide and extreme poverty, a protest, with a deep longing for universal peace, alternating with a celebration of life and thanks to God. 

The initial Kyrie begins with deep slow drum-beats reflecting the vastness and solitude of the Andes mountains. The Gloria is a sort of carnival, juxtaposed with a  drum rhythm used by the Incas for funerals. The Mass concludes with a melancholic rhythm from the Argentinian pampas.

Misa Criolla, watercolour and inks, 1974, approx. 80 x 60 cm. 
Collection of Prof. Cees Hamelink 

I knew the original recording of this work, but then it began to be performed worldwide. When I was living in Geneva in the early seventies, I heard a performance in Victoria Hall by the Agrupación música Ariel Ramirez. The ensemble was all dressed in black capes, except the conductor, wearing a colour like old rose. Most of them played indigenous instruments as they sang, like the charango (small guitar), the quena (Indian flute) bombo (Argentinian drum), and siku (panpipes). I wanted to capture the variety of Latin American rhythms, the dynamics of the players in action and the vocal sounds that were to become the tiny textures, the angular or rounded shapes of the bass notes and floating echoes of the magnificent voices of this passionate ensemble in my painting. I had never heard such a resonant deep bass. I was totally captivated!  

Back in the studio, working on the largest sheet of paper I could find, I used a variety of brushes, bamboo pens, graphite, inks and watercolours, in my attempt to saturate myself in rhythm, to visualise my ecstatic experience. It was one of my early attempts (in 1974) to represent such graphic rhythms in my paintings, perhaps a key work in my development.

I was in Argentina, Chile and Brazil in the 1980's, leading workshops for teachers of the International Baccalaureate Visual Arts programme. I was enraptured by unforgettable vast expanses of nature, patterns, rhythms, rich earth colours and music, the like of which I had never experienced before - but I also became painfully aware of political and social injustice. The Misa Criolla is full of all this. I went to this multi-cultural continent to teach, but I learned so much.

Today, I would really love to create kinetic paintings in synch with this music and put it on video in my studio. Quite a challenge, but it's on my bucket list. Here's a Link to one of the many recordings on YouTube. Play this music as you watch the painting!

Thursday, 12 August 2021

A cathedral for birdsong

                   A cathedral for birdsong

If you walk through my park (yes, the Rhapsody in the Park that inspired the previous watercolour), you may chance upon a quiet pathway leading into an enclave of very tall trees. As you stand in their dappled shadows, it feels cool and quiet like a sanctuary, a cathedral, but as you look up, suddenly a delightful cacophony of birdsong bursts out above you, an invisible animated discussion on this intruder into their dwelling. Their tweets, trills, cheeps and chirrups inspire flashes and jabs of sound-colour here and there in my treetops. This is undoubtedly a magical space.       

     A cathedral for birdsong, watercolour 67 x 48 cm. 2021

I'm reminded of the French composer and ornithologist Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992), who spent hours making tape-recordings of birdsong that might be incorporated into his music. He would be thrilled to stand here with his tape-recorder and no doubt argue with me about the colours we hear. How would he hear my carpet of blue/violet intermingled with dappled reds? His Catalogue d' Oiseaux for piano is, like bird song, full of abstract angular and unmelodic sounds. Messiaen had, like me and many others, synaesthesia - an intuitive reaction to music in terms of colour (or vice versa). Here's one shot from  my kinetic paintings performed in 2012 with pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard to 
Cloches d’adieu – et un sourire. In memoriam Olivier Messiaen by composer Tristan Murail. Both musicians studied with Messiaen. My continuous images were painted live on projectors in response to the overlapping bell-like sounds from the piano.