Rise, Ravi, Rise

TM8307 Rise, Ravi, Rise 30x24 oil on panel

TM8307 Rise, Ravi, Rise 30×24 oil on panel

The music of Ravi Shankar, with its insistent beat and evocative melodies, has always been a welcome companion in the studio. His work helped me to focus and find my own rhythm while painting.

When I heard the news of his death in 2012, I knew I had to create a painting that would embody some of the qualities I loved in his music, and also be my way of saying good-bye. Rise, Rave, Rise is that painting. Of course it has a strong horizontal rhythm (playing on a theme of strings, much like the sitar itself), and stronger colors than I usually use, again in deference to the strong sound of the music and more saturated colors of India. I also included the spiral of Tantric art, symbolizing energy going out (and in), much as Ravi’s music travelled into our hearts and out into the universe. The largest spiral in the painting is the spiral galaxy, while smaller spirals work as a border and find their way into the spaces between the “strings.” In a band along the bottom of the paintings are notes, the ABC’s of his composition. I thank you, Ravi, and feel I can still hear your music rising through the atmosphere and leaving a trail of magic as it heads out beyond our galaxy.

Below are close-ups from the painting.

TM8307 Rise, Ravi, Rise detail 1

TM8307 Rise, Ravi, Rise detail 1

TM8307 Rise, Ravi, Rise detail 2

TM8307 Rise, Ravi, Rise detail 2

Water Music – Composition with White Noise

TM7891 Composition with White Noise 36×36 oil on panel

Some paintings start with one idea then morph toward more complexity. Composition with White Noise began as a close-up view into a crashing wave, and hung on the studio wall for almost two years with the working title Wave for Mark Tobey (Mark Tobey was a twentieth century American artist who created wonderfully abstract, lyrical paintings often exploring the effects of white on white marks).  Then I discovered John Cage’s “Notations” and I knew the white noise of crashing water should be nudged a bit further. The chaos of the splash could  be in contrast with the imposed order of musical notation. Enjoy!

Technical painting notes: The initial painting began with rolling dark paint onto the panel and then spritzing it with paint thinner and blotting the drops. Paper towels and folded plastic was also used to blot interesting textures into the surface. When this initial layer was dry, I started glazing and using a palette knife to develop more detail and substance.  I wanted the paint to feel like the action of a wave, so I varied the thickness of paint used and kept manipulating it with crumpled plastic and even a brush. over several days, the surface slowly lightened in color and developed more sense of depth. I continued to glaze and splash and splash thin paint onto the surface. When it was dry, I hung it on the studio wall to think about the results.

Two years later, new idea!  I hauled out my t-square and a soft sharp pencil and started drawing the staffs, letting them appear and disappear. I sealed the pencil with white and gray glaze, slightly obscuring the lines in some places. I then accented some of the droplets and splashed various colors of additional paint around the staffs. When that was dry, I added glazes of blue-gray and pale beige, then more defined “notes” on the staffs and escaping the staffs. A few more layers of glaze and it was done. The painting now spoke of water, white noise, and the music we love to hear when we’re near the ocean.

TM7891 detail 1 – close up of lower musical staffs with notes/droplets

Detail of musical fragment from upper right center

Detail showing layered paint, with droplets and notes hovering in the vicinity of musical staffs

Toward a Universal Music

A recent posting on the blog Music for Time’s Ending introduced the topic of musical notation, and included pages from John Cage’s book Notations.  It was an “eye opening” read. Cage collected examples of scores and musical sketches from numerous composers, and the range of expression and experimentation was visually astounding. For the first time, I saw composers thinking, and while I cannot read traditional western musical notation, I could feel some of their process and experimentation. The insights freed me to experiment and see music in a new way.  Notation is expression and translation. The composers, especially in gestural sketches, were recording their first impulses and visions for their music (for examples, click on Music for Time’s Ending in the blogroll to the right – post titled Notation).

TM8255 Toward a Universal Music 36×36 oil on panel

With that in mind, I started another large, experimental painting bringing together some of the gestures of music, notation, and the cosmos. Instead of looking to water droplets as a metaphor for notes, I used stars and the gravitational energy they encompass. The result is the painting Toward a Universal Music, depicted above. Details from the painting (below) show the symbolic notation, including comets, a galaxy, horizontal and vertical staffs, and bands of color (harmonically keyed to the spectrum).

TM8255 Detail 1, Toward a Universal Music

Detail of galaxy from lower right side of painting.

TM8255 detail 2, Toward a Universal Music

Detail from left of painting showing comets crossing the vertical staff and spectrum bands.

TM8255 detail 3, Toward a Universal Music

Detail of lower right, with dust and stars, comets, and pulse notation.

TM8255 detail 4, Toward a Universal Music

Detail from lower left of painting with staffs intersecting and comets arranging themselves to a rhythm.

I would like to thank Sang Woo Kang for his enlightening post Notation. In the collision of ideas, art thrives. 

Reimagining The Dispersal of Notes

TM8139 Water Music - On the Dispersal of Notes (version two) 12x12 oil on panel

On December 10, 2010 I posted “Where do the notes go?”  The post introduced two small paintings which considered where notes go when they leave their staffs –  Notes Reaching Escape Velocity and On the Dispersal of Notes. Since then, and remembering a performance by Bruce Brubaker at Jordan Hall, I’ve  reconsidered how truly subtle notes can be. Notes float away from their point of origin, but the keystroke can whisper, echo for a long time, and leave a trail of muted colors and nuances of feeling. It was inevitable. Dispersal of Notes had to be completely reworked. Above, you can see the new version of Dispersal of Notes

Below, you can see the earlier version. In comparison, I’ve muted the colors, completely reworked the textures and sizes of the “notes” or “droplets,”  repainted the lines signifying the staffs at the bottom, overlapped additional “echo” lines, added more color, and bent some of the lines as if they wanted to follow the notes into the atmosphere. I think the new version of the painting more completely expresses what I heard at the concert. Thank you, Philip Glass, and I tip my hat to Mr. Brubaker for allowing me to see in a new way.

TM8139 Water Music - On the Dispersal of Notes (Version One) 12x12 oil on panel

Fugue #1 – Song for a Celadon Sea

TM8150 Fugue #1 - Song for a Celadon Sea 36x36 oil on panel

TM8150 Fugue #1 – Song for a Celadon Sea 36×36 oil on panel

According to Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary, a fugue is “…a polyphonic musical composition in which one or two (or more) themes are repeated …by interweaving and merging with the successively entering voices and contrapuntally developed in a continuous interweaving of the parts…” Bach’s amazing fugues range from eloquent and deceptively simple to complex and richly textured.

Listening to these fugues, I’ve always felt they were synonymous with the feel and movement of water. By combining the theme and variations of the fugue (and the staffs upon which one might be written) with the visual patterns of a wave, I hope to pay homage to both Bach and Nature in a group of paintings which I will call Fugues – all part of the Water Music Series. Today I finished the first, a celadon green wave rising, its ripples interweaving with the subtly colored staff lines traversing the lower half of the painting. Enjoy!

Water Music – Song in a Key for Lucent Green

TM8149 Song in a Key for Lucent Green 36x36 oil on panel

The newest addition to the Water Music Series! The purity, or saturation, of a color influences its impact. Strong color delivers a punch, whether it is a strident green or hot red. This visual impact is not unlike the way a song’s key affects its emotional impact. With that in mind, I am developing a series of “songs” in different keys and colors. Song in a Key for Lucent Green is the first, inspired by the quality of light penetrating to the sandy bottom of a beach, and the downward thrust of a breaking wave. Enjoy!

Symphony #5 for Waves and Continuo

Symphony #5 for Waves and Continuo 36x72 oil

Introducing the newest addition to the Water Music series. Henry David Thoreau said, “…each sound is a bubble on the surface of silence.” Some sounds are uniquely solitary, but others are layered with multiple tones and frequencies, as in a symphonic sound. If a wave could be seen with its tones and colors, its base and accompaniment of strings, along with its droplets, bubbles and splash, perhaps it would look like this.

Songs for the Ancient Mariner

The voyage continues. I am pleased to share two new paintings from the Song for the Ancient Mariner series. To view additional paintings from the series, click on the Portfolio Water Music Oils page.

TM8147 Song for the Ancient Mariner - Of Day and Night 12x12 oil on panel

TM8042 Song for the Ancient Mariner – Finding a Place in the Universe 12×12 oil on panel