Sunday 25 June 2023

At ninety, I must thank you all...


At ninety, I must thank you all
 for sharing years of creative inspiration

Dear friends, I'm indebted to so many of you, but my story should begin with the heroic Mrs. Cave, the only teacher in my tiny village school in Worcestershire. She recognised my drawing talents as a young boy and allowed me to fill the blackboard at lunch-time, while others scrambled around in the playground. Those were my first exhibitions - ha ha! Little did I know what an extraordinary role drawing and painting would play in my life.

By sixteen I was at Birmingham art college, happily competing with Charles Hardaker (a year younger). We shared keen powers of observational and technical skills and the joy of hard work. Charles became my friend and inspiration.
In 1957 I had moved to the Netherlands and became indebted to Professor Hammacher of the Kröller-Müller Museum when he offered me the use of a house and studio in the Vaucluse for a whole year. Nature and landscapes became a huge source of energy and inspiration and still are. I'm so thankful for that.
On my way home through Switzerland in 1963 I met Yehudi Menuhin at his Gstaad Festival and we became dear friends. He was the greatest inspiration of my life and opened the doors to collaborations with many other musicians. What a year that was!
                          Hand in hand with Yehudi Menuhin for a long chat (1991)
A talk with Simon Rattle for BBC Television (1993)

In the seventies, the creation of fluid kinetic paintings in synch with the music became my passion, with my partner the cellist Vivian King, conductors Clive Fairbairn, Sir Simon Rattle, Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla, pianists Louis van Dijk, Pierre-Laurent Aimard and Sebastian Knauer, violinists Daniel Hope, Lis Perry, Gordan Nikolić, the tenor José Carreras, baritone Benno Schollum, Johannes Pfeuffer and the Ebonit Saxophone Quartet, Michael de Roo and Circle Percussion Ensemble and the Trio Min/Wu/Xu. I'm amazed that I was privileged to work with such fine musicians!

Audio-visual creativity became my daily nourishment, as I learned to memorise the music of composers John Adams, George Benjamin, Toshio Hosokawa, Tristan Murail, Augusta Read Thomas and Huang Ruo. Not to mention those no longer with us: Vivaldi, Haydn, Mussorgsky, Scriabin, Saint-Saëns, M.K.Čiurlionis, Elgar, Ravel, Stravinsky, Walton, Kabelać, Takemitsu and Rautavaara. I thank them all for the opportunity to visualise their great music. 
Rehearsing for "The Sea" by M.K.Čiurlionis (2019)

As well as hundreds of portraits of "ordinary people" I've been privileged to paint portraits of great musicians in action, in such a way that their gestures help you to "hear" the music. We often became friends and I was so touched by their messages of appreciation, either personally or by phone, from Simon Rattle, Jessye Norman, José Carreras, Plácido Domingo, Bryn TerfelKurt Masur, Carlo-Maria Giulini, Cecilia Bartoli, Bernard Haitink, Vladimir Ashkenazy,  Mstislav Rostropovich and Yehudi Menuhin. (Yehudi's voice is still on my answering machine, now on YouTube). Every year I feel so sad that yet another of my dear portrait subjects has passed.
Mstislav Rostropovich (watercolour 1991(85 x 56 cm) 

I still treasure other inspiring friendships that have developed over the years: the art critic and author Eric Gibson, filmmaker Erik Friedl, author Jessica Duchen whose work is saturated with music, art educator and painter Herb Holzinger, Professor Cees Hamelink (an ardent collector of my paintings) and pianist Jean-Louis van Dam, choreographer Jiri Kylián and Jonathan Fulford, who directed the major BBC 1993 documentary Concerto for Paintbrush and Orchestra. My special thanks to Andrew Jowett of Symphony Hall for commissioning no less than thirty paintings of celebrated performers. I'm also grateful to the visionary managers or agents in the world of music who engaged me to perform worldwide: the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, the Rotterdam Philharmonic, the Netherlands Philharmonic, the Sejong Soloists, the Zurich Chamber Orchestra, the Daniel Hope Ensemble and more. 
Painting to Jura (The Sea) in Birmingham Symphony Hall, with Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla and the CBSO. My very last performance on February 16th, 2019). It was quite emotional.

Thank you all so much! It's been a real roller coaster. My sons Chris and Alex were so often the ones who steadied my nerves and still do. At ninety, there are so many stories I could tell you. Actually I have - thousands read my blogs (190 so far): A Life Painting Music. I may have disappeared from the performing arts scene, but I'm still quietly at work in my Amsterdam studio. As long as I can hold a brush I'm happy to explore many other creative possibilities. 
Why not email me at Yes, there are still watercolours and limited edition fine-art prints for sale for a "prix d'amitié".

You can Google me or play examples of my fluid kinetic paintings on YouTube
Of all my paintings, this one seems to be a favourite. A group of teenagers was once hanging around the foyer of Birmingham Symphony Hall, rather shy. One of them eventually approached me and said: "Sir, I just have to tell you: that painting changed my life. I now love classical music". Every time I think of his words, I give him a virtual hug. This is why we paint.

Here's the link: