Sunday, 30 September 2018

More reflections on painting "The Sea"


More reflections on painting "The Sea"


I'm now hard at work choreographing a continuous painting, to be memorised and performed live in concert to the symphonic poem The Sea (1907) by the Lithuanian M.K. Čiurlionis. This masterpiece offers me perhaps the supreme opportunity to tap into the vast reservoir of Nature with my watercolour brushes, using my own natural analogue energy to propel, splash, persuade and release the flow of my fluid colours in synch with this amazing music, to share the composer's "boundless longing" for a sublime experience with Nature.
The link to my 4-minute Trailer of "The Sea" made from a studio practice session will give you an idea of what I'm talking about: 


One very early love was to paint watercolours of landscapes and seascapes on paper, usually a thoughtful search for peace and stillness, often standing outdoors in all weathers, conversing with Nature as crystals of ice would freeze my paint on the paper before it could dry. In an earlier blog Dancing Rhythms, I describe how unexpected sounds in nature have inspired compositional rhythms in my paintings. Coincidence or synchronicity?*

As a student I spent hours, just for fun, balancing and walking on a slack-rope stretched between the iron girders of my nineteenth-century art-college studios. Totally focussed, I could enjoy the exhilarating tension, the sensation of standing in space suspended on a line - the line that I later habitually attached to the edges of my paintings to create an horizon. Actually, balancing in my own space became the challenge of my life, visually and literally.

                                Misty morning on Vancouver Island, 1986
I've always been fascinated by the horizon of land or sea, where at that thin meeting place of the heavens and the depths, something magical happens, whether through a single brush stroke, or by the confrontation and reaction of two pools of colour that may overlap, bleed into or repel each other. I'm often confronted with this critical line in the very flat Netherlands that have become my home and find myself asking -  is this horizon an opportunity to venture into a vast unseen world just out of sight? Or is this my last hurdle, the finishing line of life's marathon? Only to discover that as I round the dyke, there's another hurdle.
                                   Water's Edge in Friesland (watercolour on paper, 1980) 

On February 16th. 2019 (the National Day of Lithuania) my performance with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra under conductor Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla will offer me once again the opportunity to create an art work through a technique that bears my own signature: a continuous painting to music with liquid watercolours on the glass surface of overhead-projectors, to evoke the immense undulating expanse of the sea: dramatic, stormy, dreamlike, frightening, calming and refreshing, all viewed on a ten-metre wide screen behind the orchestra. I hope that the spectator/audience will feel alternately bathed, swept away or even overwhelmed with the grandeur and whimsical power of the elements of Nature. 
                                                  One giant brush - one wave

I nearly drowned in water as a boy and I've never lost the fear of drowning. How ironic that I've nevertheless learned to swim in watercolour and to take the risk to go with the flow, to battle the elements - in front of a couple of thousand spectators! 

My aesthetic statement is also a very personal spiritual exercise, a passionate quest that may have some roots in my youthful evangelical activities in a Christian church (my initiation into which was by baptism (submersion in water!), from which I long ago emerged to set off on an ongoing search for my own form of spirituality, searching for a oneness with the powers of the Cosmos - for a synergy that, after all these years, I'm best able to express in my audio-visual language - that of a painter and musician. 

Lithuania's national hero the painter/composer Čiurlionis was widely steeped in the cultural philosophies of his day and was also preoccupied with man's relation to divinity in Nature. I can identify with his Pantheistic 
dialogue, in his case visualised in the mystic symbolism of hundreds of paintings of landscapes, seascapes and fantastic architecture, made in the first decade of the twentieth century. Even if the complex meanings of his themes and symbols have been neglected by present-day trend-setters, during his lifetime his work was regarded as one of the precursors of European modern art. 


    Three paintings entitled The Sea Sonata, with thanks to the 
M.K.Čiurlionis National Museum of Art.

While composing The Sea, Čiurlionis wrote a poem that begins:
"Powerful sea. 
Great, infinite, boundless. 
All of the sky envelops your waves with its blue, 
While you, full of grandeur, your existence is infinite. 
The great, powerful, wonderful sea! 
Half the world is looking at you at night, 
Distant suns drown their blinking, mysterious, slumbering Glances in your depths, 
While you, eternal queen of giants, breath peacefully and quietly, 
You know that there is only you and nobody reigns over you".

Čiurlionis was regarded by the composer Stravinsky (who purchased one of his works) as one of the most talented of the Russian school of painting at the turn of the century. Before his untimely death in 1911 he was rapidly becoming an influential figure in the European world of art and music.  His passion was to fuse the arts into one Gesamtkunst form

The majority of his paintings in the National Museum of Art in Kaunas are overflowing with suggested movement, patterns and rhythms, yet these art forms are static, anchored in their frames. That's why I'm sure he would have welcomed my concept of creating my own abstract expressionist painting that literally moves continuously to his music, as I stand with my projectors right in the middle of the orchestra, breathing with every wind instrument, my brush strokes gesturing with every stroke of the bows of the strings. As in the transparent harmonies and tone colours of The Sea, my ever-changing colours are layered over each other with my analogue image-mixer in my right hand, while I paint with my left hand. So for over thirty minutes, my whole body and soul is in balance as I join Čiurlionis in search of a sublime experience.

Here is the Link to two earlier blogs with more details on how this performance on February 16th. 2019 gradually took shape. 
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*Did Čiurlionis know the Finnish composer Rautavaara - at work just across the Baltic Sea from Lithuania? Here's the Link to my performance of Rautavaara's Cantus Arcticus (Concerto for Birds & Orchestra), where synchronicity between recorded bird-song, visuals and orchestra plays a vital role. Both composers were preoccupied with synchronicity (meaningful coincidences) in the mystic patterns of life.  As it happens, the CBSO will be performing Cantus Arcticus just two nights before my performance of The Sea, as part of this season's theme: Baltic Music. 


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