Monday, November 03, 2008

My painting XL

As at 31.10.2008

At art school we worked in silence. When eventually I graduated to independent studio life it occurred to me that listening to music would enhance the day: my LPs of Beethoven and Bartok string quartets could be just the thing. I was wrong. If I listened I stopped painting and if I painted I failed to listen, hearing just the first few familiar bars but only becoming aware of the piece again as the final cadence gave way to the hiss of needle on vinyl.

But priorities are priorities and I was always able to pay attention to the Test Match commentaries. Far from hindering concentration the spoken word seemed to take up the slack of a brain that would otherwise have inwardly burbled on about money and quotidien anxieties. When rain stopped play it was a double blow, although, as in winter, there was always BBC drama to look forward to after lunch.

Why not the mornings? Each day somehow seems a fresh embarkation with the chart to consult and a course to be plotted to negotiate once more the way out of dock and harbour. Towards the end of the morning (coincidentally when cricket also gets underway) the wordmind dwindles in its usefulness.

Changes in the wireless schedules drove the BBC plays to a less convenient time so I learned to record them for later consumption. Using cassettes brought me only a step away from the talking book, to which I am now addicted. Peckham library may be short on Trollope and Henry James but it is rich in literature I knew little about and I thank them for Elmore Leonard, Elizabeth Jane Howard, Lee Child, Dennis Lehane and those others who have sustained the doze-prone artist through long afternoons.

Working on this painting has clarified for me how much music is embedded in what I do and why its actual presence in the studio has never been a help. I have made drawing and paintings over the years that refer to music directly and even use the graphic devices of notation, staves, barlines, note-clusters etc. Sometimes as in Last Notes from Endenich these can arrive at a virtually playable score

Last Notes from Endenich, pastel h75cm x w150cm 1975.

and at others, using the same elements, as in Concerto Grosso, they evoke for me an imagined music that lies, for a technically limited composer, beyond my reach to realise.

Concerto Grosso, oil on canvas h91cms x w122cms 2002.

Quantum Poetics on the other hand, while it carries no such specific baggage, has deep musical roots that have spread strongly as it has progressed. All along it has had the feel of a symphonic structure with motifs and variations. Its soundscape has suggested a divided orchestra with the dark areas represented by cellos and lower wind instruments and the lighter background provided by the higher strings and woodwind. These, which never play together, are linked by a viola and horn continuo (with interjections sometimes harsh sometimes soft from the percussion) representing the intrusions and extrusions of the main calligraphy. I do not claim that this great orchestra strikes up whenever I start to paint but often it swims into the mind's ear. More than a few times I have sung along either in my head or out loud.

Now, just as I approach the final chimes of a cadence to mark its end, I am off again to watch the red and amber leaves fall on Einstein Drive at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. This will seem as if the conductor has suddenly put his baton down and quit the podium before the piece achieves its proper resolution. It is because, were he to turn the next page of the score he would find it blank. I hope to come back with the last few notes.


Mike C. said...

A "heads up" to the Studio -- Are your rubbish bins secure? Are you sure? Try a search for "reknowned artist tom phillips" on Ebay ...

How does this stuff get out there and into the hands of people who can't spell?? Perhaps it's a similar case to the Hokusai prints used to wrap Japanese pots in the 19th c.?

Cait said...

I was so delighted to read this post, so pleased to find that I am not the only one to find music a terrible distraction to work. I stopeed listening to music while painting and even though I no longer paint in the fine art sense, I could never understand why I did not enjoy music when working but loved the spoken word. Not being a cricket fan, BBC Radio 4 and now BBC Radio 7 are my companions. I wondered if perhaps I had lost my ability to enjoy music in the way I had when younger.

I have only just discovered this blog and am having a wonderful wander. Thank you.