Monday 31 May 2021

A young artist waiting for the music


A young artist
waiting for the music to start

I'm standing in line outside Door 11 of the Royal Albert Hall in London, hoping to get a cheap ticket for the BBC Proms Festival, standing room only. According to my sketch, it's September 9th.1953 at 6.15 in the evening. The programme is Mozart and Schubert, with soprano Elizabeth Schwartzkopf and Adrian Boult conducting the London Philharmonic, no less. 
I was a mere twenty years old, celebrating my graduation with a First Class Honours in Painting from the Birmingham College of Arts and Crafts, as always with a sketchbook in hand and a fountain-pen for linear notes of composition, colours and tones, although in this case they never resulted in a painting. I'm surrounded by excited music-lovers with a glimpse of the structure of this grand temple of classical music with Hyde Park in the distance, I believe. What are my prospects? As a young artist in 1953 I had no idea how my life would unfold.
Even then, I was already searching for a way to combine my love of painting with music, to figure out some sort of Gesamtkunstwerk (audio-visual synthesis). But it was going to take me a decade or so to find a form, develop my preference for watercolour and to utilise the kinetic flow of watercolours and the freedom that my brushes could offer me. 
My move to The Netherlands in 1957 and the resulting exposure to European culture has had a lasting influence on my life. I began to zigzag across the world, organising around 40 exhibitions of my work, painting hundreds of portraits, including those of world renowned musicians, collaborating with some of them in audio-visual performances, appearing on television and in festivals in South Korea, France, Germany, Austria, Belgium, Norway, Finland, Switzerland, Holland, Lithuania, Dubai, the USA, the UK and in particular my birthplace Birmingham. Already, those extraordinary journeys seem a long time ago.

Sixty-seven years after the above photograph, I painted a self-portrait in Amsterdam during the 2020 lockdown, contemplating the years gone by. Did I really do all that? Here's the Link to my comments on that painting.

I can't help reminiscing on the extraordinary nature of my artistic life, a roller-coaster of excitement, hopes and also some disillusionments. Although rather proud of many projects, there is still a sadness about the creative ideas that failed to find form and production. Sometimes this was just bad luck, bad timing or my network of colleagues and agents moving on, factors that had nothing to do with the quality of the proposals. Then, in the mid-seventies, the world became flooded with an obsession for all things digital, so organically foreign to the joys and sensual beauty of my analogue brushstrokes. Here's the Link to a blog from 2017: Analogue is alive and well.

Now approaching eighty-eight, I'm missing the interaction and discussion with other creative minds and the challenge of a new production. I especially miss the adrenaline rush of painting live to the music on stage. Even though the inner need and ability to create is still there, the need to slow down has inevitably become a reality that I'm trying to accept. Today's watercolour is inspired by a view from the spot where Rembrandt made one of his many drawings along the riverside of the Amstel. Perhaps I too am searching for new perspectives, as I round each bend of this quiet flowing river through the bustling city of Amsterdam. 
Searching for water-music, watercolour 60 x 49 cm. 2021

The 165 blogs, A Life Painting Musichave become my memoir and are easy to access in the right hand column. Hopefully, there will be many more!