Saturday 18 April 2015

The art of letting go

The art of letting go

A particular sadness hits me when I look again at my paintings of those who have passed away. Below is a watercolour study for a painting of Elaine Shaffer, in her day the veritable queen of the flute. I met her at the Menuhin Festival in Gstaad. She often performed with Yehudi and Hephzibah Menuhin and was very kind to me as I made sketches in 1972 for a large painting - that was not to be. I didn't know that in less than a year later this striking woman with the wonderful sound would die of cancer at 47. 
watercolour 36 x 51cm, 1972

A brilliant creative life cut short and a creative process (my painting) interrupted. Perhaps the minimal form of this study is therefore appropriate, incomplete as it is. I must be thankful that I was privileged to share just one brief session with this great musician and had to let go of what might have been.

As a dear friend reminded me yesterday - letting go is an art in itself, whether it be a failed relationship, the loss of a loved one, or even an experience that you know is designed to finish. Any performance falls into this category, as does my kinetic painting to music, that finishes when the music stops. Spectators used to holding on to a "finished" and framed painting, will tell me after performance: "but we wanted it to go on.... and there's nothing left!" Their comment reminds me that one of my aims in these performances is to practise and to share the "art of letting go". It really does take a lot of practice.

Here's a link to one of the Bach performances that I especially remember, with Elaine, Yehudi, George Malcolm (harpsichord) and Robert Masters, Concertmaster of the Bath Festival Chamber Orchestra. The video is dated 1959, but I heard this work with same ensemble at Gstaad in the sixties. She was wearing the same skirt and blouse!

Wednesday 8 April 2015

The joys of teaching

An old master enjoys teaching again

After many years away from teaching, it gave me much pleasure to teach a master class last week for an international group of twelve students of the Amsterdam Conservatorium. I discovered that a long teaching experience sharing your personal passions and convictions never leaves you, it becomes second nature. 

They crammed into my small studio, so that I could avoid the chore of schlepping my overhead projectors, paints and other gear across town. It was thrilling to see such lively intelligent students taking in every word and keeping me on my toes with bright questions. We started with a potted history of the concepts of Gesamtkunstwerk and synaesthesia, moving quickly from Wagner, Scriabin, Kandinsky, Walt Disney (Fantasia) and Frank Zappa to Perryman, all artists obsessed with bringing together various visual arts and music to create one unique multi-disciplinary art form.

I pulled out a few watercolours to show how, over the years, I had moved from painting illusions of movement and music in watercolour on paper, to choreographing kinetic paintings on the glass plates of my overhead projectors, where the coloured inks literally keep moving. I began to experiment with kinetic painting in 1973, while teaching Art at a very proper Swiss private school, Aiglon College. At exactly the same time the audiences of Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention were hallucinating to the fluid psychedelic colours of the Joshua White Show in New York. My preference was to combine my painting skills with classical music as an aid to meditation, without any need to enhance the experience with substances.

Ken-Ichiro Kobayashi conducting Debussy with the Netherlands Philharmonic, 
watercolour 70 x 50 cm, 1989. Basses and celli top left; below them percussion and woodwinds; bottom right the strings.
A sequence of kinetic painting towards the end of Scriabin's Prometheus/Poem of Fire. Click this link for the story of that Brussels performance in 2013).
Amazed and delighted groups of students experimenting for their one-minute performance on my overhead-projectors.

This was my assignment: paint me a phrase of any five notes: show me what colour they are, in which direction they are moving, how fast, are they hard edged or a soft flow, spaced or close, and so on. An impossible challenge for one session - even a one-week course wouldn't give you enough time to practise. I've been practising this for forty years and still learning! But they enjoyed getting their toes wet.