Art:Music explores the impact of a variety of musical genres on post-war and contemporary artists. Each artist is paired with audio excerpts from the musical compositions that shaped their work.
Sculptor and designer Harry Bertoia created many cross-genre innovations including avant-garde sound sculptures. Following collaborations with Charles Eames and Florence Knoll, he produced a series of freestanding tonal sculptures, including Ohne Titel (Sonambient), which feature tightly arranged flexible copper rods. Topped with cattail-like cylinders to add extra weight and enhance their movement, the rods produce deep, resonant sounds when activated. Bertoia recorded eleven albums of the sounds generated by his sculptures.
Contemporary painter Kenichi Hoshine’s painting Blind Joe Death is titled after the legendary 1959 album by fingerstyle guitarist John Fahey. Fahey married folk and blues traditions at a time when the mainstream music industry was focused on rock ‘n’ roll. Blind Joe Death, who was credited on one side of the record, was a fictitious persona invented by Fahey based on famous blind gospel, blues and folk musicians, such as Blind Willie Johnson, who he considered mentors. This exploration of a mythical tale resonates with Hoshine’s paintings, which feature narratives that are simultaneously ambiguous and iconic.
John Knuth’s experimental “fly paintings” use colored flyspeck to create abstracted landscapes in the lineage of the Impressionists and Color field painters. His painting Soundrise references both Long Island Sound, the waterway surrounding New York City, and the sound and movement of the flies, which he describes as a swarm or a crescendo. Knuth considers the record Vision Creation Newsun by the Japanese rock band Boredoms influential because it offers a similar experience of crescendo using masterful drumbeats. Although Knuth is not a musician, he is an explorer of underground music and far out sounds. To Knuth the importance of pushing visual form and composition is inseparable from exploring aural form and composition. He recently directed a music video for experimental jazz drummer Ted Byrnes.
Matt Mignanelli’s painting Midnight Music references the recordings of jazz pianist Bill Evans, who collaborated with Miles Davis, and frequently played in a trio with Scott La Faro and Paul Motion. Mignanelli often listens to jazz to “harness a certain energy and mood.” His paintings are inspired by New York City’s urban architecture and jazz allows him to tap into that vibrancy. In his words: “I go and listen to live jazz from time to time at Paris Blues in Harlem, Arthur’s Tavern in the Village, and Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola at Columbus Circle. I love the connectedness that the music has to New York. I feel that jazz embodies the city I call home, and captures some of that same energy that feeds the work.”
Image: Courtesy of Matt Mignanelli/Denny Dimin Gallery
Larry Rivers’s exceptional career bridged the visual art and music scenes at mid-century. Rivers began playing the saxophone as a teenager and studied at the Julliard School of Music before deciding to focus on painting and enrolling in Hans Hofmann’s School of Art. Rivers continued to play at jazz clubs where his friends, the painters of the New York School, often gathered. The newfound freedom, passion and improvisation of the genre had a critical impact on the development of Abstract Expressionism. The Drummer is a portrait of his friend musician Elvin Jones. Rivers captures Jones’s prowess and energy, allowing it to reverberate outwards, enrapturing the viewer in a moment of raw expression.
Music is an important element of Bill Scott’s artistic practice. It allows him to pause, step back and contemplate the work. This pause and resumption of activity, mirrored in musical notes and rests, is referenced in the title Eight Note. Scott describes folk singer Richard Shindell’s song You Again as a favorite because, “both sad and hopeful, it puts me in the frame of mind that makes it possible to paint.”
Jazz music had a powerful impact on American modernist painters working with the Cubist tradition such as Stuart Davis and George Vranesh. Vranesh drew inspiration from a variety of abstract artists including his teacher Will Barnet, Hans Hofmann, and Amédée Ozenfant. These influences melded with his enthusiasm for jazz. Along with his wife Peggy, Vranesh attended concerts at Lincoln Center and performances at clubs throughout New York City. He also listened the records of San Francisco jazz musician Dave Brubeck, whose songs he sometimes referenced in his painting titles.
Abstract Expressionist painter Michael [Corinne] West embraced avant-garde experimentation throughout her career, which spanned the 1930s through the 1980s. Her vigorous gestural abstractions reflect myriad artistic, philosophical, and musical influences. Always openminded towards new innovations, she was an admirer of electronic sound from its beginnings in the work of French composer Edgard Varèse. In the 1970s, as her painting entered an energetic phase with a new series of calligraphic compositions, she listened to the progressive rock group Emerson, Lake & Palmer, especially their 1973 album Brain Salad Surgery. In an notebook entry from 1974, West noted she worked from “music of most abstract quality—Rock, [John] Cage, Emerson, Beethoven, Brahms, Schubert, [Teiji] Ito.”