American painter Jackson Pollock came of age at a time when jazz was very popular; the big bands were swinging on the radio, and he was drawn to it. In selecting the seven painters for the Portrait in Seven Shades suite, I was drawn to Pollock and his work because although he was reclusive, I believe music gave him a sense of belonging, a connection to society. Pollock moved away from figurative art and became known as an Abstract Expressionist. Once, when asked, “What is modern art?” he answered, “Modern art to me is nothing more than the expression of contemporary aims of the age that we’re living in.”
Posts tagged ‘Ted Nash’
“When Matisse dies,” Pablo Picasso remarked in the 1950s, “Chagall will be the only painter left who understands what color really is.” The work of this pioneer of modernism and master of color is the inspiration for “Chagall,” the sixth movement of Portrait in Seven Shades, a suite of music based on seven artists in MoMA’s collection. This piece is inspired by two of Chagall’s iconic works—I and the Village (1911) and Calvary (1912)—and by costume designs and renderings Chagall created for the character of Zemphira, a gypsy from the ballet Aleko.
The tragically unrequited love, the driving need to be accepted as a serious artist, the longing for success that never quite came (he sold only one painting during his lifetime)—most people are just as familiar with the story of Vincent van Gogh‘s life as they are with his art. Full of thick strokes and rich colors, van Gogh’s paintings express his passion and pathos. His many self-portraits show him to be sad or dispirited. Aware of his struggles, we are drawn into his paintings. The reality he captures is one we want to experience.
For the Portrait in Seven Shades piece—which we performed last week at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Rose Theater—my goal was to select seven recognizable artists whose different styles would help create a contrast between each of the seven movements in the piece.
I’ve already talked about the “Monet” and “Dalí” movements, and today am moving on to “Matisse,” which very much expresses the reaction I have when I see Henri Matisse‘s paintings such as Dance (I): joy.
Portrait in Seven Shades tells a story about seven painters—not through words, as in a museum description, but through music. Many parallels can be drawn between art and music. Like painters, musicians talk of colors, layers and composition. Several stylistic descriptors—impressionistic, abstract, pop—are common to both fields. And of course there is the blues.
When Wynton Marsalis, artistic director of Jazz at Lincoln Center, asked me to compose a long-form piece, it didn’t take me long to come up with a concept that would truly inspire me to write an hour’s worth of music: it would be a piece with seven movements, each dedicated to a different painter. It was hard narrowing it down to only seven painters, as there are so many artists that I truly admire, but the list ultimately included Monet, Dali, Matisse, Picasso, van Gogh, Chagall, and Pollock. I wanted the listener to hear music that evokes images with which they are already familiar, and to see these paintings in a new, fresh way.
For the Monet movement, I used the triptych Water Lilies as a main inspiration. I feel that Monet embellished reality by diffusing it, using colors and textures to create fantasy. We feel nature, water, air – things that are very basic. When you stand up close to this sprawling canvas you lose sight of reality; instead you see the strokes, gesture, and textures.
I hope that you’ll return to INSIDE/OUT to experience the six other movements, as I’ll be writing about each one over the next seven days.
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