Wednesday, 9 May 2018

Painting The Sea

Painting "The Sea" 
with Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla & the CBSO
February 16th. 2019

I'm delighted to share the announcement of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra that in February 2019 I shall be making kinetic paintings live in concert to The Sea, by the Lithuanian composer/painter M.K.Čiurlionis (1875 -1911), conducted by Music Director Mirga Gražinyte-Tyla in Symphony Hall Birmingham. The date for this UK première is now confirmed as Saturday February 16th. 2019, which by the way is Lithuania's Independence Day.

It's still a work in progress of course, but here's the Link to my first 4-minute Trailer on YouTube for a few quick glimpses of the beginning and the end of this twenty-nine minute work.   

And here's the Link to my blog from last September - Serendipity: Mirga, Norman and Čiurlionis, written after I had done some serious research in Lithuania on the audio-visual work of this prodigious creative spirit. Čiurlionis had a significant influence in early abstract art, symbolism and art nouveau and became a cultural legend in Lithuania. As a synaesthete, he was so finely tuned to the correspondences between visual art and music, that had his life not been tragically cut short at the age of thirty-five, I'm sure he would have become one of the composers of early film music. At last, in 2019, I shall be creating the movie to his music. Music that is ideally suited to my flowing colours. 

Čiurlionis probably had Chromesthesia, as I do. I'm not going to copy his paintings, but rather create my own kinetic flowing images inspired by my own automatic involuntary reactions to his music. How wonderful it would have been to meet! You can imagine that we might have embraced as brothers.

Mirga's concerts with the CBSO are regularly sold out, so here's the Link to book your concert tickets early (from June 4th. for general public). After all, this concert has a somewhat unusual added visual attraction! It's been twenty-five years since I performed with the CBSO in Symphony Hall under Sir Simon Rattle, televised by BBC in 1993 as Concerto for Paintbrush and Orchestra. Born in Birmingham nearly eighty-five years ago, this is quite an emotional milestone in my career in visual music and I shall be thrilled to be back in Symphony Hall.


Saturday, 7 April 2018

Portrait of a dear friend

The arts and science of communicating

Cees Hamelink: world-renowned Emeritus Professor of Global Communication, esteemed author, jazz musician, collector of my art works, theologian, dear generous friend, a politician's nightmare, devil's advocate, media critic and globe-trotter with a wicked sense of humour, is a brilliant educator whose tutorials have become legendary.

How can you possibly try to compose a portrait of such an erudite and many-sided personality? I asked him how he would like to be portrayed and remembered. Without hesitation he said - as a teacher. So I asked him to give me a tutorial during our "sitting", actually making life quite difficult for myself, in that he would be moving non-stop around the studio, talking with hands and heart on the passion of his life - global communication. 
Prof. Cees Hamelink. Watercolour 70 x 49 cm. 2018.

 So here he is in action: a fairly relaxed professor, thoughtful, raised eyebrows always questioning, his friendly eye-contact full of wisdom and humour, using persuasive body language, his sensitive hands conjuring up surprising truths, then firmly giving shape to untruths.  No notes of course - his thought bubble is bursting with ideas. I've tried to paint this watercolour with a freedom that would suggest his dynamic energy, but here and there I had to zoom in for some precise details. Don't you wish you could be one of his students?

I met Cees back in 1974, when we were both resident in Geneva. I had just painted my large watercolour and ink impression of a performance in Geneva of the world hit Misa Criolla, sung and played by the Agrupación música Ariel Ramirez. I was blown away by the variety of Latin American rhythms, instruments and voices that were to dictate the tiny textures, deep bass notes and floating echoes of the magnificent voices of this passionate group. It was one of my early attempts to include graphic rhythms in my paintings. This one immediately became the first of Cees' large collection of my work. Turn the sound up for the full sonorous bass tones, enlarge the picture, then click on this link to hear what this painting sounds like. Misa Criolla.
Misa Criolla, watercolour and ink, 69 x 99 cm. 1974.

I wonder whether Cees could have imagined that, forty-two years later, he would marry a wonderful Mexican lady who cheerfully carries such rhythms in her heart and soul. 
Gabriela Barrios, watercolour 62 x 45 cm. 2016

Thursday, 15 March 2018

The Unseen Collection

The Unseen Collection 

Last Monday I enjoyed the opportunity to give a new friend a guided tour of my collection of thirty-one paintings in Symphony Hall Birmingham. Although he's a regular concert-goer, he had only seen a couple of them before. The earliest of my action-portraits of great names in classical music, all programmed to perform at Symphony Hall, were painted in 1990/91, commissioned by the first Director Andrew Jowett, now retired. The most recent in 2013.

Despite popular demand for a public exhibition of the collection and despite various proposals during the last twenty-eight years, only a privileged few occasionally get to see a handful of my works at receptions in the Director's Lounge; even less see the paintings in the back-stage corridors. There are just two on semi-public view.

Elgar's Dream, my largest watercolour ever, inspired by The Dream of Gerontius, commissioned by Robin and Jayne Cadbury and unveiled by Yehudi Menuhin in 1996, has limited access on the Level 4 Foyer while you grab your drink during the concert interval. An Elgar fan, my guest was delighted to finally get my detailed description of his favourite painting. 

My Mahler Experience can be glimpsed on the ground floor but is often cordoned off, eclipsed by the blinding bright panels of advertising in The Mall and Convention Centre. I wonder with some trepidation what will happen to these major works, when the spacious new foyer is built (see below). A radical re-hanging, presumably. An artist is often powerless to intervene, once his works have left the studio, when he discovers it with a horribly wrong frame or wall colour. Right from the beginning I was fortunate to be able to consult with the excellent Birmingham Framers Gale & Co. Ltd (Est. 1845) about the framing of this Collection.
photo: Page\Park Architects

Yes, you can now buy some cards and my memoir A Life Painting Music, if you can find them amongst the Chopin Boards, Victoria Eggs, coffee mugs and toy Ukuleles in the little Gift Shop

But as a Birmingham man approaching his eighty-fifth birthday this year, I guess this is one last plea for a professionally curated public retrospective of the original paintings of the Symphony Hall Collection (preferably somewhere in Birmingham), expanded by a selection from the enormous number of my other paintings that bring art and music together - Yehudi Menuhin with Ravi Shankar, Georg Solti, Bernard Haitink conducting Stravinsky's Firebird, paintings of the Netherlands Dance Theater and so on. And hey - what about a painting of the wonderful new Music Director of the CBSO, Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla?

Meanwhile, bravo to Classic FM for providing this Link to their online Gallery of a major selection of my work, so that it can be viewed by a global public. Thank you!
The Mahler Experience - Symphony Hall, acrylic on canvas, 200 x 160 cm., 1993

I've written blogs on the making of this Collection and on specific paintings. Just scroll down or go to the search bar (right). More general information and images can be found on my website at

Wednesday, 21 February 2018

My Amsterdam studio

A visit to my Amsterdam studio
About forty years ago I walked into my Amsterdam studio and noticed a bullet hole in the window. I found the bullet and kept it - it had hit the opposite wall and fallen to the floor, totally squashed. I figured out the trajectory. Had I been standing at my work-table, it would have gone right through my head. The police merely shrugged when I told them. Ach, it's only a small bullet.

Things have quietened down a bit since then. Around 1979 the city had given ten artists the opportunity to rent a classroom in this recently closed lower school, still littered with abandoned tiny tables and chairs. There was one problem - the local "Hells Angels" motorcycle club had squatted the ground floor and were most aggrieved that we had "invaded" their space. Their threats to set the building alight, attempts to demolish our staircase to create more space for their motorbikes and their habit of playing deafening music didn't exactly encourage creativity. 

But the Burgemeester eventually closed down the Hells Angels club; it became a crèche, fronted by a lovely playground where little kids can scream their lungs out under my window - just what I need when studying a pianissimo passage in a new performance score. Across the street is a thriving "koffie-shop" (read softdrugs-café), where noisy motorbikes come and go continually, presumably as drugs couriers. 
Those early days when my studio was still fairly uncluttered, with some of my early sketches of the Netherlands Dance Theater on the wall.

An artist's creative space should be an inspirational and private place where miracles can happen, despite frustrating intrusions from without and within. It takes great determination to protect your spiritual space. My studio has many colourful memories, creative, romantic, disappointing and exciting. What a joy it is then to occasionally receive such support as this unforgettable loving message from Yehudi Menuhin that I received on arrival at the studio in 1991. How happy he would have been to see me recently, making plans in the studio with violinist Daniel Hope for performances together.

My studio is seven metres long, so that determined the length of my biggest painting ever, a mural in acrylic for the Netherlands Dance Theater, eight panels painted flat on the floor in 1987, stepping stones to leap across like a dancer, later to be cut and to hang free from the wall. 
I've welcomed many visitors, to choose a painting, for a workshop, or even to turn the place upside down, like the BBC film crew directed by the wonderful Jonathan Fulford, to make a documentary around my Concerto for Paintbrush and Orchestra, a 1993 performance with the CBSO and Sir Simon Rattle in Symphony Hall Birmingham. Oh man, we were all twenty-five years younger then! The renowned film-maker Dick Kuijs (second from right) has been in and out of the studio many times, making a new documentary of my life painting music, hopefully to be finished in 2018.   
An unexpected surprise was a recent visit by the pianists Rokas Zubovas and his wife Sonata Zubovienė. Rokas is the great-grandson of musician/painter M.K. Čiurlionis, so I just had to give them a few glimpses of my first experiments with live kinetic painting with The Sea by Čiurlionis, for performance with the CBSO in Birmingham in the 2018/19 season. He loved it.
With windows high up on the second floor, the studio has a good natural lightfall, ideal for studies of the nude model or for a portrait.
But I can also create absolute blackout for projections of live kinetic painting in rehearsal.
Tamara Hoekwater improvising in my flowing colours with "Bésame Mucho"

I'm grateful for my special space. It holds the vibes of wonderful memories, the throes of creativity and the joys of sharing some of the results, now spread worldwide in good homes or on internet at