February - Painting Music (Part one)

In my previous post I introduced an art movement called Orphism, whose artists likened themselves to musicians; their work to a musical score. Robert Delaunay believed by placing one particular colour next to another it felt the same to the soul as listening to music.  What a beautiful idea!

Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky explored this and other similar ideas further.  They used form, gesture and symbolism to express the emotion of the music or the "experience of listening to" the music. 

The Abstract Expressionists also aimed to capture this experience in their work.

We're all familiar with the squiggly paintings of Jackson Pollack. Not many of us, however, appreciate the artistry in his seemingly simple and childlike work.  Pollack was concerned with capturing the action or "motion" of an emotion. The dripped paint would follow his movement as he listened to music.

I'm very fond of the teaching of artist and psychiatrist Nancy Hillis. She uses the paradigm of the Heroes Journey (which I got to know very well as a screenwriter) adapting the concept to create The Artists' Journey.  Through her, I've been learning spontaneity in painting, gesture and mark-making, trying not to pre-judge and let the painting emerge!  

Regular readers of my blog will know that I've been itching to go large in my painting for a while now, but either practicalities [of space] or confidence have held me back.  This week I decided to just go for it! 

I'm in love with Tom Chaplin's new solo album "The Wave", in particular a song called  Hardened Heart. (Click here for a lovely acoustic version if you don't know the song) 

He seems to be expressing something that I've also felt. 

As a screenwriter, during one of my periods of depression, I wrote a short screenplay entitled "To Feel Something". I'm not sure I ever allowed anyone to read it as it was expressing a part of me I feared the most: my darkest side. 

Depression at its worst, for me, is complete emotional disconnection. It makes me feel inhuman. Joy and laughter seem distant and inachievable. The negative emotions, fear and regret, even at their most extreme, seem more accessible. I sometimes feared what I might do in order to experience them and shock my system into feeling human again. 

Hardened Heart by Tom Chaplin was written during Tom's recovery from drug addiction. It was a time when he was just beginning to "feel" again. There is more hope in the song than there was in my script, but he ends the song with the lyric "I know that my hardened heart is beating still. I took it to the point of madness just to feel something" 

This was the perfect song for me to begin experimenting with the idea of "painting music".

I laid out some 100cm x100cm paper on a board on my easel, blasted out Hardened Heart a few times and just .... well... expressed.  With each run of the song I used a different medium, starting with graphite, then ink, then acrylic paint.

For the first time in a while, I got completely lost in the creativity. It was rather wonderful!  

It's no masterpiece, but the experience made me [physically] feel the song and express it like I haven't before.  It's made me want to study this technique further; to unpack the process in more detail and follow the teachings of the masters who became familiar with this process, namely Kandinsky and Klee. I will document what I learn in future blog posts.

Below is a quarter section of the piece expressing the end of the song.

"To Feel Something" acrylic and graphite on paper (10x10" detail of a 40"x40")