Monday, 24 June 2013

Eighty years and counting...!

Eighty years and counting....!

No! I can't believe it either - there's something about the joyous synergy of colour and music that keeps me young. My memoir A Life Painting Music is turning into a very long story. And there are still lots of projects waiting - I seem to be busier than ever.

I have one big wish for my birthday - that the powers that be (in museums in England and/or Holland) could be persuaded to produce and curate (preferably before I die :) a retrospective exhibition of my work, or even a small selection of the hundreds of works on musical themes. The exhibition would include several large-size works and of course the best of the Birmingham Symphony Hall Collection. But it could also screen some of the video-recordings of my live performances of kinetic painting in concerts. In this way, the show would demonstrate the link between my static paintings that give the impression of movement and music and my continuous kinetic paintings that are a synchronous visualization of the music as it happens.

In 1966 I made my first painting of a young Bernard Haitink in action with the Concertgebouw Orchestra (120 x 80cm). I too was very young, carefully organizing shapes in my rather heavily handled oil-paint, still too concerned with - even intimidated by - the visual impressions, rather than with the colours of the sound. The painting below now seems slightly old-fashioned to me. But when you get further down, you'll see what happened in the following ten years! 
I'm so thankful that I'm still enjoying a very active life professionally. I'm indebted to many. In addition to dear friends and family, lots of wonderful personalities have given me encouragement, friendship, commissions and inspiration over many years and in many countries. Here are some of those who have had a special influence on my work (for the oldies amongst us, click on the names in blue to get the link to their part in the story): 

The late Professor Hammacher of the Kröller-Müller Foundation and Otterlo Modern Art Museum, who in 1963 provided the opportunity for me to paint for a year in France and develop my early style. The late great violinist Yehudi Menuhin, who at his 1964 Gstaad Festival became a warm friend and staunch supporter for life. Professor Cees Hamelink, collector of some of my best works, brilliant communicator, musician and friend since 1974. Choreographer Jiri Kylián, who made it possible for me to co-create a ballet for the Netherlands Dance Theatre in 1989, in which kinetic painting played a integral part. Conductor Simon Rattle, who saw a video of that ballet and invited me to perform together with the CBSO in 1993. Jonathan Fulford, Director of the 1993 BBC documentary Concerto for Paintbrush and Orchestra about that performance. Andrew Jowett, Director of Birmingham Symphony Hall, who has commissioned no less than twenty-nine paintings of great musicians to form his unique collection. Pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard, who immediately grasped the essence of my visual performances with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra and invited me to perform with him - as an audio-visual duo in our programme Piano Colours. My former student Eric Gibson, Arts Editor of The Wall Street Journal, for his really kind advice on the need to develop my kinetic painting art-form and to tell this story of my life. My friend the energetic Chinese/New York composer Huang Ruo, whose music compelled me towards greater improvisatory freedom in performance. The author and music-journalist Jessica Duchen, who inspires me daily with her creativity and her blog.

But these are only a few mile-stones along my zigzag creative path. There are many others who will never know how much they meant to me. Each of my subjects made a contribution to that particular creative work, as they posed, danced or made music - we made art together. How privileged I've been! And there are new friends with whom I'm making plans. With a bit of luck, it's not over yet.....
In 1977, (above) I was back in the Concertgebouw again with Haitink conducting Stravinsky's Firebird. (I'm cutting a long story short - but you might scroll down to my blog of March 12, 2012 to read about this development).
             Photo: Ronald Knapp
Here, in 2010, I'm creating my "visual music" to Scriabin's Poem of Ecstasy, with George Benjamin conducting the same Concertgebouw Orchestra. Although virtually all of the orchestra members in the 1966 painting have since retired. 

But how my work has changed, since those far-off days! I've joined the musicians, to get into the flow, to create an ever-changing ephemeral kinetic painting to their music, totally abstract and projected eight metres wide. When the music stops it will disappear - for ever. 

Ah yes - when the music stops...... 


  1. I can't believe that round figure - but congratulations anyway! It's great to know that you are still so creatively prolific, and hopefully that exhibition will materialise. I hope to get to Symphony Hall Birmingham soon to have a peep at your latest portrait there. In the meantime, very best wishes and happy birthday from an old colleague. Catherine Sommer