Monday, 4 June 2012

Where’s the Right Critic for my Kinetic Painting to Music?

Where's the Right Critic for my Kinetic Painting to Music?

I’ve made life difficult for myself – and for the critics. Am I an artist, a musician, a lighting-designer, or a choreographer? Actually, something of all four: I create and paint live performances of luminous visuals that move with the music.

So which critic should I invite from the Arts Desk? Will the music critic know anything about visual art? Will the visual arts critic appreciate the musical connection? Do they like dance? I usually get to perform in concert venues, where the audience will expect music or other time-based art forms, and I’ll get a mention from the critic who has essentially come for the music. I used to hear the reproach “cobbler, stick to your last!” (i.e. you can only be good in one discipline). But today’s multi-disciplinary arts world has changed that attitude.  The classic separation of disciplines, so convenient for academics and critics, no longer suits our multi-media age. So I’m hoping for a critic with an open, audio-visual mind.
My brushes in action with Circle Percussion (The Netherlands).
Reactions to my live kinetic painting can be anything from the begrudging “Perryman’s visuals didn’t detract from the music” (the purist classical music critic) to “His visuals really gave us an insight into this difficult music” (the curious and pleasantly surprised critic). You also get grumbles from old Aunt Bessie, who didn’t look at the programme: “Came to hear Beethoven and I had to watch kinetic painting with Stravinsky”. Still, I’ve often been honoured with more positive reactions:

From music critics: “How thrilling to be at the birth of a new art form!” “Perryman followed the structure of the music, but at the same time allowed the development of his interplay of forms and colour.”  “It was exciting to see how the live painted images alternately collided with and blended with the music.”

From dance critics: “Perryman treats his brushes and paint just like a choreographer.” “This was one of the most amazingly novel stage spectacles of the writers’ experience.... it adds a complete extra dimension in ballet theatre.….an absolutely fascinating collaboration.”

Many people are producing digital images with music today. Am I the only one actually painting live in classical concerts? My oeuvre creates a link between hand-produced static painting and art that only exists while it moves. Ha, you might say, don’t forget Joshua White’s poured and dripped fluids on overhead projectors in the sixties, spectacular analogue images originally conceived for classical music and jazz, then employed for psychedelic trips with Frank Zappa, Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix in the New York seventies scene. Since then, the digital visuals of the VJ (video-jockey) seem to have taken over the planet. But the way I perform, you don’t need a computer programme. Just two things: an ability to paint and musicality.
Painting on super low-tech analogue overhead projectors.
To any musician watching the timing and structure of my kinetic images, it’s obvious that I know and love the score. The sounds of the music are my primary inspiration. One of my aims is to complement them with a visual counterpoint or harmony, rather than detracting from the music by imposing a baffling overload of conceptual images on the audience, as many video artists do these days.

A respect for the precise characteristics of the music is fundamental. These inspire the shapes, colours, rhythm and tempo of my images. So I listen, try to memorize the score and practise endlessly. I’ve also developed an unconventional use of the paint-brushes. I have them stroke, dance, splash and swirl with the paint, often synchronous to the music in a visual choreography. This synergy is often absent in contemporary audio-visual performances.  The critics expecting yet another hi-tech fireworks display will be disappointed – yet perhaps intrigued. Since 1973 I’ve been using low-tech overhead projectors. And they still have huge potential. You can paint on a glass surface and project the result (magnified about thirty times its original size) as a giant kinetic painting without pixels, that’s in synch with the music!

So Mr./Ms. visual arts critic, if you did show up for my concert, what did the visuals actually do for you? Is painting in real time on an overhead projector just too incredulous for words? Did you see a link with Kandinsky, Jackson Pollock, the stained-glass windows of cathedrals, Calder’s mobiles or Zen calligraphic art? Would you group this under expressionism? I know that my work goes against the trend of contemporary conceptual art (only comprehensible with long verbal statements). It’s fashionable to see painterly skills as old-fashioned, compared to clever digital effects.  But, forgive me, I am a painter. Audiences experience the spectacle of the movements of my paintbrush as sensual, surprising, humorous or something that takes you out of this world. Stroking feels good, if you’ve practised your skills and have sensitivity. Especially when synchronized with stroking by other instruments made of wood and hair (e.g. the violin bow). The brush is my instrument and I want to play visual music.
Painting on five overhead projectors in the Amsterdam Concertgebouw.
A welcome development is the increase of music and dance events in art museums these days (Watch this space for more news!) I’ve had innumerable shows of still paintings in art galleries internationally, but galleries can’t sell kinetic paintings. Compared to an old-master in a frame, DVDs of my ephemeral events don’t fetch very much. I have considered my kinetic images for screen-savers, kinetic paintings on your wall and visual therapy for nervous patients in the waiting room. I just need a producer. Any other bright ideas?

Critics – watch out! Or should I say – listen up! Figure it all out at my next performance, with master pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard at the 2012 Aldeburgh Festival on June 22nd. The Piano Colours recital will include Debussy Preludes, and kinetic visuals to the music of Liszt, Scriabin, Murail and George Benjamin.



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