Sunday 17 March 2013

How do you act like a legend? Any tips?

How do you act like a legend? 
Any tips?

 Painting to Hamlet (Shostakovich) with the Netherlands Philharmonic, Amsterdam Concertgebouw. "To be, or not to be....?"

Leafing through the Netherlands Chamber Orchestra’s new brochure for the 2013/14 Season, I found the announcement of the concert Cloud and Light (Bach and Hosokawa) on October 26th, where I shall flood the stage of the Muziekgebouw with the projected colours of my live kinetic painting. The high point of my fluid visual music might well be Toshio Hosokawa’s piece Meditation, music that mourns the victims of the tragic Japanese earthquake and tsunami in Fukushima, two years ago last week. My work has long been influenced by Japanese art and music and I am thrilled to be involved in this performance.

But I was quite amused to discover in the blurb for this concert a reference to “the already legendary artist Norman Perryman”. Huh? You mean he’s still alive? This year I turn eighty and my contemporaries are dropping like flies – so maybe that’s what they’re referring to, with a nod to the respect for senior citizens that we find in Japanese culture. I tend to apply the term legendary to those already passed away, like Pavarotti, Bernstein, Toscanini – the dead about whom we pass on legends, contrived or real. These days, with the right PR, you can become a legend at 21, so is it all a big joke? Or is this PR department helpfully easing my way into that "other world" of legends? "Hey, remember that guy who was crazy enough to paint in time to the music in concerts?" Nah, that's a myth. "No really, he used analogue projectors too, really old school."    

I can't help smiling. "To be, or not to be....". After all these years, I suppose I really do have quite a few stories to tell and thousands of pictures to share…but wait, I'm just getting going!

I've come from a very humble background (as illustrated in my blog: Early memories of an artist-to-be) and possess the British talent for self-deprecating humour, so superlatives of this kind tend not to be taken seriously, or might even become something of a family joke. Worse still, my son Chris is an actor. With his sense of humour, at the drop of a hat, I bet he will lovingly caricature me pretending to be “legendary”. And in Holland, where I now live, it's definitely not cool to be a legend. The common expression is: "Just act normal - that's crazy enough". The only guy allowed to be a legend is the footballer Johan Cruijff, and nowadays even he is considered to be rather pretentious.
                                           Luciano Pavarotti. Now, this guy’s a legend.

But to answer my own question in the headline: just be yourself and keep breathing to a grand old age, I guess. And keep painting, of course. For me it’s the same as breathing. Oh, and you'll understand by now that this headline was written with tongue in cheek. I'm taking it all with a pinch of salt.

Thursday 7 March 2013

Music and space in watercolour painting

Music and space in watercolour painting

I’ve been listening to violinist Daniel Hope's recent album Spheres, inspired by the idea, first brought forward by Pythagoras, that the movements of the planets create their own kind of music, bringing beauty, harmony and simplicity to our complex solar system. Spheres takes us out of this world.  If there are sounds eternally resonating in space, could it be, that as each of my brushstrokes create an energy field, they also make a tiny contribution to an infinite kaleidoscope of colours in our cosmos?

My late friend Yehudi Menuhin seemed to imply this when he was about to unveil one of my paintings at Birmingham Symphony Hall. With his hand ready to pull on the curtain-cord, he said: “Now, let’s all focus on this moment – the world will never be the same again”.

Composer Toru Takemitsu used to say: “silence has energy”. You could say the same about what is often called negative space in a painting: the space in between things. But that space is not just “nothing” – it’s full of energy. Every pencil line, every brushstroke ignites a field of energy in the adjacent empty spaces apparently “left over”. In fact this space can be deliberately arranged as breathing space. Breathing creates energy. An artist composes with space, as a composer arranges silence between the notes. Without this, the graphic marks would lack beauty or character. Sometimes it’s the space that has the major role, balancing the minimal marks or strokes within the frame.

Here are two watercolours painted in the quiet landscape  of Burgundy in 1984. There I attempted to select the essential features and stretch them across space, like phrases of music. As I moved my brush, I was aware of both the brushstroke and the space through which it was moving. Just as a musician simultaneously listens to the note he is playing and the effect it has in relation to the whole piece. 

Can you hear the slightly rasping sound of the shakuhachi flute, as the brush drags across the paper, lifting occasionally with a slight pause between the strokes? Can you feel the flow of time? And can you taste the Chablis, cultivated for years in this ochre/rose soil? 

Does all this sound familiar? Here’s the link to my blog from 9th April 2012: The beauty of space and silence.

Takemitsu drew much musical inspiration from the slowly changing audio-visual nature of gardens, rocks, rain, water and birds. He transforms his sources into haunting, whimsical or dramatic sounds, leaving us with a nostalgic realisation of the passing of time. In 2004 I made continuous kinetic paintings in a performance with the Rotterdam Philharmonic of one of Takemitsu’s masterpieces From me flows what you call Time (commissioned in 1990 for the centenary of Carnegie Hall). As it happens, I’m writing this in New York, in the shadow of this great concert hall, full of the vibes of legendary concerts. How wonderful it would be, to recreate this performance in the Hall for which it was written.

Here’s a still from “From me flows what you call Time”, a page in the score that Takemitsu entitles “Curved Horizon”. But he labels the next page "Mirage". In my performance, one space transmorphs into another.

And here's the link to my studio practice session for that 2004 performance.