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:


  1. Norman, You are such a fantastic talent, an artistic legend, and a really lovely man. It was such a wonderful thing for Christine and I to share some time, laughter and personal stories with you in Amsterdam the other week, and thank you very much for that incredible opportunity. What a treat! We are so glad to have met you, we are big fans of your work, and we absolutely treasure our copies of your limited edition signed prints of your utterly brilliant and so musical art. Never meet your heroes? Glad we did! Happy 90th Birthday, friend. Love & best wishes, Neil Arthur Williams and Christine Williams xx

  2. Norman
    Huge congratulations on your many inspiring years of creativity. Your work is original, lyrical, and engaging.
    Typically, you credit all your good fortune, histories, and the wonderful Mrs. Cave but you do not mention, most humbly, what is also your great contribution: that is your gift as an innovative and aware educator, vanguard of the International Baccalaureate Diploma and generous, sympathetic teacher and examiner. You were the light we all held ourselves to shine as brightly. Your years of contributions to the program both molded it’s future and provided a sterling, intelligent, flexible approaches to assessing international fine art instruction and assessment. That was your gift to thousands of I. B. Visual Arts students. You are a gift to all the creative art tutors who had the fortune to share in your innovative and instructive workshops and lectures.
    For me personally and fortunately you were also a supportive friend. You helped me generously when I lived in The Netherlands with my British MA Fine Art thesis and acclamation to a new environment. I am lucky to have one of your paintings but the fortune of knowing. working and learning from is my greatest treasure, Happy Birthday, dear Norman, Thank You for all you are.

  3. Thank you so much for these kind words. Yes, the IB Visual Arts programme became a significant part of my life for many years, with many travels to share our convictions of the need for a world perspective. Thank you again for your appreciation.

  4. Hi Norman. Matt Richter here. My sister is Elizabeth and you were her 9th grade art teacher at La Chât in Founex outside Geneva. My mom Laurose just passed (my Dad Burton passed 5 years ago). My parents had two or your works. A lady playing a French horn and a landscape. Anyway, my sister and I were chatting about the art and the artists they'd accumulated. Your works were in good company including a Nathan Oliveira, a Calder and a Miro! Anyway, Liz says hi.

    1. Hello Matt, forgive this belated reply. La Chat seems a million years ago. At ninety, it's difficult to keep up, but I'm still painting. I feel honoured to be in the company of such wonderful artists. The horn player you have may be Julia Studebaker, then solo horn of the Concertgebouw Orchestra. Send me a snapshot if you would. . Best wishes, Norman