Archive for January, 2005

Chords of colour.

Painting, when thought of as great art, has the same character as great
music. Harmony, tones, notes, chords, slurs, hard edges, lost edges,
soft edges. Orchestral colour, melody line, texture, transparency,
palimpsest, rhythm, percussion… each of these concepts has to become
our friend, our muse.

If I may illustrate… imagine two snooker balls on a green tabletop,
one red, the other yellow. The prosaic way to paint this (correct, but
deathly boring) would be to draw two circles on a green ground, fill
the one with yellow and the other with red, then shade each of them
from light to dark, not forgetting to add the cast shadow of each in
darker green, and finally, add a highlight on each. Particularly
obsessive renderers would even show how each of the two balls are
reflected in the other.

Now imagine the same simple subject painted by a master like Turner,
Sargent, or Rembrandt. In one brushstroke they would give us the yellow
ball, in another the red ball. This, at the most basic level. In truth,
they would in a single brushstroke define both balls, and the shadows,
as well as the tabletop. One colour chord, one slur of pigment,
perfectly weighted and drawn, easy apparently, but the result of the
most intense visual perception and refinement of feeling.

Painting of this quality can hardly be achieved in one lifetime. So we
have to take it as far as we can and pass on such knowledge as we may
have to a next generation, for them to add their own serious researches
until eventually, art is restored to its place of honour with the work
of Beethoven and Mozart.


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Visual music

Much of music is an up and down progression along a scale, something

like a xylophone or a pan flute, both of which leave me irritated and

dissatisfied. The beauty of music lies in its expressive range:

harmonies, tempi, breadth and force. Even the piano, which is no more

than a long ladder of notes, is capable of the greatest beauty and

emotion because it involves all ten fingers, and sometimes more.

The same thing happens in art. There are many paintings which are no

more than a rendering of the scale of light and shade over an area of

canvas, sometimes in monochrome, and sometimes in Kodakcolour.

For painting to move into the realm of art, requires exactly the same

as does music. The artist has to bring more to the painting than just

the barren correctness of tinted tone. We have to give energy, tempo,

drama, beauty, and expression. We have to make the painting slow in

part and fast in part, light and airy here and heavy and moody here,

establish contrast in one picture and harmony in another. And we have

to learn each one of these skills as a musician does. We have to know

the meaning of each term and how to achieve it. Then we have to teach

it to every young artist who comes to us for help.

Painting at its most boring is like newspaper prose; at its most

exciting, like an orchestral masterpiece.

(This post is getting a bit long. I shall continue in my next post with an example of what I am trying to express.)

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