Monday, December 28, 2015

How singing in a choir has helped my painting.

I have had these thoughts floating around in my head for a few months and now that I am back to putting in some sustained hours in the studio, I think they are clear enough to me to communicate to you.

Indulge me here...  I know greater minds than mine have theorised about art and music, but my focus is smaller and more specific, - ie. choir singing and MY painting.

For a non-musically-trained person like me (great music lover though) exploring another art form from the inside (choir member) has made me aware of various parallels.

Being part of a group of singers and surrounded by a rich sound has made me question, -

"What is it that really makes this work"?  and
"What can I learn from it"?

The obvious components of the composition of a choir, - the bass line, the tenors, the altos and on top of it all the sopranos, have a natural and perceptible parallel in the aspects of a painting.

Bass - darker tones and rhythm
Tenor - the composition itself, the geometry, the subject, the guts of the story
Altos - supporting mid-tones, texture?
Soprano - brightest colour? melody? highlights?

It goes without saying that all these things are important and that they have to come together.

This is just a simplistic starting point however. Harmony in a painting (if that is what you are aiming for) is a balancing act, and you work the contrasts that are available to you to make it interesting. Dark against light, textured against smooth, thick paint against washes, and how the colour contrasts work, -  repetition of a key colour maybe.

All this is fairly obvious to a painter and pretty instinctive after a while, although it doesn't hurt get a bit analytical occasionally. So where does the choir come in?

It is interesting how a lot of the same terms can relate to both art forms. Certain moments capture your ear and while I don't understand this in a technical musical sense I can see a wider analogy in painting. The main thing I have learned and the new thing for me is about where the breaths come in singing and how important this is. To me, in painting form it is what I would call "linking the darks".
Your painting is a lot stronger if you can somehow do this.

Brisbane City, William Street

I have chosen this recent painting to illustrate my point as it is the most urban of my current subjects and the furtherest from the cliché images of art/music, (the least "pastoral").

Often when taking progress shots I view the image tonally and I can see where a sustained and linked dark area can be spoiled by gaps. (audible breaths in the wrong place)  If an area needs to be dark for strength and balance then make it all dark without pussy-footing around. The strong dark "L" shape here is a case in point. The walking figures can then provide both lighter AND darker action over the top.

Brunswick Street Brisbane

This is a much more complex painting of Fortitude Valley, still a work in progress. You can get much more into the middle of this one.

In the two choirs that I am privileged enough to sing with, I have a position right in the middle of the front row. From there I can hear everyone. I love this spot where all the parts converge. I can hear the inevitable problematic moments too.

Music happens in real time and then it is a remembered experience that if you could go back you could improve, and that can replay in your head for days afterwards. The act of painting plays out in real time too and the act of looking can also do so, depending on the viewer. The finished painting is a static thing that occupies space and although slow looking can be rewarding, ie. living with an artwork, I think it is more important to give the impression of the act and the real time it took, by leaving the drips, the under-painting, the history of the process. The music analogy becomes very contorted here.

Another point that has occurred to me is the difference between something laboured and something bravura, - the confidence of the virtuosic "effortless" appearance (or illusion) . This is something we love in painting, the confident brush-stroke compared to the tentative one. It can come not from just skill but from confidence.

One more point, - For the serious visual artist, overcoming one's natural reclusive tendencies and joining a group of non-artists can give you a new perspective when your normal routine resumes!

1 comment:

  1. I'm not sure how I came across your blog, but you are very talented and so kind to share your knowledge.