Last night I put the finishing touches on “Where the Wyrm Dieth Not”, commissioned by my friend and colleague, the pianist Corey Hamm. You can read about how this project came into being in my previous post from Nov. 12, 2012 (I think it’s funny how I proclaimed that the painting would be finished within the week — my, how time flies…).
I’ve begun work on a new commission for the Vancouver-based pianist Corey Hamm, who recently recorded The People United Will Never be Defeated! by the American composer Frederic Rzewski. Corey requested that I provide the cover art for the forthcoming CD. Comprised of 36 variations, Rzewski’s virtuosic warhorse was written in 1975 as a tribute to the struggle of the Chilean people against a newly imposed repressive regime. Many of the recordings of this work that I’ve come across feature cover art that emphasizes the political overtones of the piece — but while most of these make sense, I wouldn’t call any of them particularly attractive. After weeks of poring over images of crowds, political demonstrations, and reading up on Chilean folklore and mythology, I decided to go an entirely different route.
I wanted the “people united” to be musicians. These musicians you see in the foreground of this painting are, in fact, caricatures of the percussionists from Karlheinz Stockhausen’s opera Samstag aus Licht. They are all different, each comprised of various real and imaginary instruments (except for the cyclops, who merely wears his instrument as a hat). But what force could unite them? Obviously, the act of playing together would be the most appropriate metaphor for unity through diversity, but I wanted something a little more visually powerful, something that not only unified the musicians, but protected them as well. The initial sketches toyed with a two-headed dragon, a giant she-wolf shaped like a piano (which looked *terrible* — talk about sketches that will never see the light of day!)… but in preparing for this painting I came across a quote from the Bible (Mark 9:48): “Where the wyrm dieth not, and the fire is never quenched.” This seemed in keeping with the spirit of Rzweski’s piece (both the political message as well as the utter ferocity of the piano writing). So I began looking at “wyrms” (also known as salamanders): creatures that were, throughout history, associated with elemental fire… the fact that this “wyrm” shares a resemblance to a childhood pet — specifically an eastern spotted newt named Sam — is, of course, entirely coincidental.
Anyhow, the painting is only about two-thirds complete (I’m presently having a conundrum with the piano keys). But overall I’m pleased with how it’s progressing, and expect to have it finished by the end of the week.
The Hideous Birds actually began as an old draft that I came across while cleaning my room a couple months ago — back when the earth cooled I was a member of a woodwind quintet, and I think this painting had originally been meant as a poster image for one of our concerts (I’m pretty sure I had abandoned it because one of the five birds is so much larger than the other four, and I didn’t want to create the impression of a hierarchy in the quintet). My rediscovery of this sketch coincided roughly with the death of Maurice Sendak, one of the most influential artists of children’s literature in the 20th century. Given that Sendak was also gay, it seemed fitting that the Hideous Birds — infused with a Sendak-esque grotesqueness that I find to be both sad and noble — should be resuscitated for inclusion in the 2012 Queer Arts Festival here in Vancouver. This painting, along with another recent work, More Subtil Than Any Beast, will be on display at the Roundhouse Community Centre, from July 31st – August 18th.
My last painting, whose working title was “Fox Wedding”, has been renamed: “More Subtil Than Any Beast”. One of my students actually pointed out to me that the painting reminded her of the Temptation of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden — which never occurred to me while I was painting the piece. The title is taken from the King James Bible, Genesis 3:1, “Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?”
So this morning I touched up the foxes: yellow and green highlights for the bride, a little more purple in the groom. They’re both a little more understated. To be honest, I’m still not 100% convinced of the title, “Fox Wedding” — but it’s been the working title for so long, it’s the only thing that pops into my mind whenever I look at it (and I’ve been looking at it for about a year and a half now!). On to the next project!
Well, it took long enough, but I believe I put the final touches on Fox Wedding this afternoon. There are some things I find slightly frustrating with this photograph: some aspects of the snake don’t come through — the colour isn’t exactly right, and we lose a lot of the texture. I may try another photo shoot tomorrow. Also, I may touch up the foxes — but I’ll sleep on that first.
As a musician I’ve had the honour of being nominated twice for the Western Canadian Music Awards, which acknowledges the outstanding efforts of musicians in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba. This year I’m delighted to see a number of my colleagues nominated in both the categories of Classical Recording of the Year and Classical Composition of the Year. And I’m extra thrilled that two of these nominees feature my artwork on their album covers. The Emily Carr String Quartet‘s first CD, Hidden Treasure, features music by Kodaly, Tavener, and the Turkish composer Saygun. It’s a beautifully programmed and breathtakingly performed album… and its nomination in the category of Classical Recording of the Year is extremely well-deserved. The cover of Hidden Treasure features my painting, Trésor caché d’André Cormier.
In 2011 Vancouver composer (and good friend) Jordan Nobles saw the release of Undercurrents — the first CD dedicated exclusively to his music — on the Redshift Records label. Featuring the Toronto new music ensemble Contact, Jordan’s haunting piece, Simulacrum, has been nominated for Classical Composition of the Year. The cover of Undercurrents features my painting, Summer.
The 2012 Western Canadian Music Awards takes place on September 30th in Regina, Saskatchewan. Congratulations to everyone!
Progress on “Fox Wedding” continues… In other news, I recently discovered that “Jabberwocky” is in the public domain. Hmmm…..
A lot of time has gone by since I’ve posted an update on this site. A number of musical obligations (including a new CD project) took precedence these last few months. However, the smoke has cleared somewhat, and I’m determined to finish this painting by the end of next week! I’ve already added a few more layers to the foliage — what you see here will more or less be the final version. The tree trunks are next….
An update on my Fox’s Wedding (working title). The first layer of foliage is complete — there will be at least two more layers, which will hopefully take place tomorrow. The first layer always takes the longest for me — not that it’s any more labour-intensive than the subsequent layers, but it’s the stage that’s filled with the most doubt (is this the right colour? Do I really want that much blue?). For the most part, I’m pleased — the final product will be much darker, and many of these colours you see now will only be hinted at in the end. But right now, I’m happy with the fact that it looks like a container of Smarties exploded all over it.