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.


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