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The art of hearing: the painting which sings. Part II

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The heroes of this "sounding" compilation are the model in Willem de Kooning’s portrait, the magnetism of the three of Mark Rothko’s colour fields, Sandro Botticelli’s multi-figured time of hope, William Turner’s pictorial progressive rock and Jan Brueghel the Elder’s work Hearing, which shows that the artist put the art of hearing ahead of other senses.
Check out the first part, in which we selected soundtracks for the paintings by Chagall, Klimt, Vrubel, Čiurlionis and Dalí.
Willem de Kuning. Yellow woman
Yellow woman
1952, 22.2×15.2 cm
Willem de Kuning. Woman
1948, 136.1×113.2 cm
Willem de Kuning. Two women near the water
Willem de Kuning. Seated woman
1940, 137.3×91.4 cm
Willem de Kuning. Woman III
1953, 172.7×123.2 cm
Willem de Kuning. Woman
1944, 116.5×80.6 cm

Willem de Kooning. Yellow Woman

There is no doubt that paintings are the result of gestures, physical actions of the artists: they unscrew the cap of the paint tube, squeeze and throw the latter on the floor of the workshop and work the paint into the hairs by stroking or rubbing the brush on the palette, mixing the tone. They step to the easel, and then — a wave, a prick, or a quirk… or wide strokes when the brush is pressed down… or rhythmical hatching, which resembles scratching. It depends on the outline on the canvas. And what if there is no outline? What if the painting hasn’t even been composed? That’s how action painting began in the United States in the 1940s — a style with two central figures — Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning, the latter being born and raised in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. Action painting also spotlighted with the fireworks of vital exultation de Kooning’s later series of works, in which he switched back from abstract to figurative art.
Almost all figures in his paintings are female ones, and in the 1950s, de Kooning painted only women. They sat in front of him wearing yellow pinafore dresses, white dresses, bright trousers or no clothes at all; they easily changed poses for him. They were beautified landscapes with themselves. They had stars in their eyes.

His Yellow Woman is full of emotions, and while painting her, the artist was also overwhelmed with emotions — to the point that he distorted the shape of the plastic female body. This picture is de Kooning’s statement about how much reality affected him. So deeply that he created another reality. His model’s hands were so beautiful that they were everywhere in the painting. And that woman’s legs were also so beautiful that they ended up being painted all over the picture. Her eyes are so adorable that you don’t even know what to look at with your own ones. And it’s also tempting to stroke her hair. The woman herself is the embodiment of shyness. And the artist seems to say, "This is what happens to me when you are around."

Compositionally, each of de Kooning’s "Women" is one theme (without any second parts) in the very center, the outlines of which expand from a long, emotionally charged gaze and multiply kaleidoscopically, as if overlapping one another. That was the way they composed music in the 17th century — admiring repetitions of one theme, layering them, enjoying the kaleidoscopic variants and not being distracted by the accompanying moments. The then composers never lacked expression, and when it comes to the diversity of their emotions, we should learn from them. In order for the tender adoration expressed in the work for harpsichord Why Ask You? by English composer John Bull (1562 — 1628) not to look old-fashioned, let’s take its electronic interpretation for the synthesizer — Synthi-100 by Eduard Artemyev (1980).
Rothko Mark. Orange, red, yellow
Orange, red, yellow
1961, 236.2×206.4 cm

Mark Rothko. Orange, Red, Yellow

This picture is the record holder for most expensive auction sale among Rothko’s most valued, "late" works, which he called "colour fields" - it was sold for $86 million at Christie’s in 2012. Yet, each of them (White Center, Green on Purple) is "the simple expression of the complex thought," as the artist repeated at a white heat when being approached with limited standards of "coloristic experiments". The huge rectangles of his canvases are so impressive that some people even cried when looking at them.

The path of Rothko’s highly original artistic style made several sharp turns. He was drawn to abstract painting by the understanding that art should relive life instead of retelling it. These methods of artistic interaction with matter were mentioned by Aristotle in his Poetics, where it was stated that expressing the feeling itself is just as important as telling what happened. In the end, it is catharsis that matters. Taking a good look at Rothko’s works, viewers get into their spirit. And feel, for example, how satisfaction is replaced by anxiety, despair, mourning or ecstasy. Emotional experience and sympathy — that’s what turns out to be the most valuable.

But you need to slow down as much as possible. Distinguish all colour transitions, all the spots where one colour peeks through the other one, and the entire history of the layers that gave rise to this surface. Discover that it pulses, trembles, vibrates.

If this painting were music, it would also pulsate, tremble and vibrate.

In 2013, composer Jim Wilson wondered what can be heard if the cheerful and sonorous chirr of meadow grasshoppers, each of which lives no more than four months, is slowed down to a human pace. It turned out to be almost a miracle: like a smooth choir of female voices. Wilson combined both choirs of the grasshoppers: the slowed and normal choir, which repeated many times against the background of the first one.

It is amazing that this "simple expression" grew out of the "complex thought" that has occupied the minds of the composers for centuries. This type of music, where the motive performed in lower voices is slow and the tempo of the upper-voice motive is accelerated (whilst everything had to be harmonious, which was governed by many rules), already existed at the beginning of the 14th century in France, in the works of the poets and composers Philippe de Vitry and Guillaume de Machaut. And if the first one named art — created by himself and his contemporaries — "Ars nova," the second one, following the same principle of the synchronous sounding of a slow and fast version of one motive, managed to compose the most complex and beautiful vocal Messe de Nostre Dame (1364).
Rothko Mark. White center (yellow, pink and lavender on red)
Rothko Mark. Green to purple
  • White Center, 1961
  • Green on Purple, 1961
Sandro Botticelli. Spring
Spring
1485, 314×203 cm

Sandro Botticelli. Spring

Botticelli created his highly allegorical Spring on the commission of the Duke of Florence Lorenzo de' Medici the Magnificent — the picture was the wedding gift to his relative Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco, who also received moral instruction from him: a young highbrow and bigot lacked humanity. Everything is steeped in symbols here (ancient, revivalist and Christian ones): from the figures of Ancient gods (the West Wind, Zephyrus rapes and then marries the nymph, who transforms into Flora; the three Graces dance together in front of the virtuous Venus-Humanity; on the left, Mercury dispels a patch of clouds so that nothing casts a shadow on the young family) and to the last periwinkle (eternity of marriage), chamomile (fidelity), buttercup (wealth) and a leaf in an orange grove (chastity).

Botticelli painted the image of Venus in the center of the picture (as in the painting The Birth of Venus), recalling the reigning beauty of Florence — Simonetta Vespucci, the "beautiful lady" of Lorenzo the Magnificent’s younger brother, Giuliano, with whom the artist was friends. Simonetta was a living embodiment of divine harmony. "It seemed almost impossible that so many men could love her without exciting jealousy, and so many women would praise her without feeling any sense of envy," wrote the contemporary. Simonetta died of consumption at the age of 23 and "her beauty was even greater in death than it had been in life." So the message about Humanity, the essence of whose "soul and mind" is "Love and Mercy, her eyes — Dignity and Benevolence, hands — Generosity and Magnificence, legs — Sightliness and Modesty, which as a whole is Moderation and Honesty, Pleasantness and Greatness", is complemented with a warning not to lose these priceless and fragile gifts.

Imbued with flowing tenderness, the composition is directed from right to left. The trio and the image of Venus that stands out, then another trio and Mercury. It reminds of a half of the verse and a pause emphasizing some important phrase, another half of the verse and another important phrase. It looks like an old aria — beautiful, flowing, measured, full of restrained passion and meekness. A woman should be praised in such aria by a man of noble birth and character, that is by the highest male voice — in ancient music, it was the countertenor. One of the examples is the aria Vedrò con mio diletto of the Byzantine Emperor Anastasio from the opera Giustino by Antonio Vivaldi (1724), performed by the great countertenor Philippe Jaroussky. The character sings about his beloved wife, Ariadne, kidnapped by the envier: "What pleasure it will give me to see the soul of my soul, the heart of my heart filled with happiness. And if I must be parted from the one I love, I shall spend every moment in sighing and suffering."

William Turner. Rain, Steam and Speed. The Great Western Railway

Most often, Joseph Mallord William Turner, who doesn’t fit in any categories, is considered by many to be a marine painter, or more generally, a landscape painter with a special view of urban landscapes and the sea. At first, he tried to paint photographically precisely (and almost as quickly), but over time, he began to prefer everything that prevented him from peering into details: fogs and splashes, flashes of signal lights and smoke-clouds caused by fires, blurred reflections in turbulent water and all sorts of rainbows, hazes and mists in the air. If Turner had lived not in London at the beginning of the Victorian era, but half a century later in Paris, the Impressionists would have chosen him as their leader.

However, it wasn’t enough for Turner to capture those elusive substances: he painted in such a way as to convey what a person, an ordinary citizen feels when they get into the grand landscape
The development of the genre from antiquity to the present day: how did religion and the invention of oil painting contribute to the development of the genre in Europe, and why was the Hudson River so important? Read more
filled by them. Switching his focus from the reference accuracy to the philosophical understanding of what he saw, he showed that this citizen is often baffled by the simultaneous sadness, delight and fright: because the world is grandiose, and it is changing rapidly.
Joseph Mallord William Turner. Last voyage of the frigate "Brave"

30 years after the Battle of Trafalgar, the Fighting Temeraire, that played a significant role in it, is tugged under the shine of the new moon and the gloomy haze of the setting sun to her last berth to be broken up — the era of steamers begins. In a slanting rain, the London train rattles though a newly built railway viaduct over the Thames in the direction of the Western lands, drowning the outlines of the three-master that is cowering beneath in clouds of steam mixed with a shining mist. Before Turner, rain, steam and speed had never been independent objects of painters' interest.

The musical phenomenon of the 20th century that matches Turner’s "pictorial progress" is progressive rock — an English invention, which speaks on difficult subjects using a complex language of large compositions with extraordinary instruments, sometimes playing in different tunes and at different tempo. The sockdolagers of progressive rock — Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Genesis, King Crimson and of course Pink Floyd — like steam locomotives broke into the comfort of the three-chord love songs and dance tracks for parties, showing how amazement, anxiety and energy arise in response to the pressure of the modern world.

An absolutely unique musician among them is Robert Wyatt, a rock of a person. He was the drummer of the band Soft Machine and became a composer, who wrote 16 solo albums of absolutely amazing things. Now Robert Wyatt is 70, he composes music, plays the trumpet and sings in his completely ordinary voice, but in a way that it is his vocal in five octaves that is used as a model, literally as a tonometer by the musicians of Sting and Björk's level. His reference accuracy, rarest skill, compositions based on contrasts of unsteady and intense, a huge coverage of topics and ordinary human intonation — all this reminds of Turner. For example, Wyatt’s debut album, Rock Bottom.

Jan Bruegel The Elder. Hearing
Hearing
1618, 64×109.5 cm

Jan Brueghel the Elder. Hearing

Of the five senses, allegorically presented on a series of panels by Jan Brueghel the Elder, nicknamed "Velvet," the Hearing is shown living in the most ordered and spacious dwelling. While Sight lives surrounded by shelves filled with plaster busts and other objects that the artist had to explore during the period of his studies, the unbridled Taste, omnivorous and not caring about her table companions, eats practically outside, Smell retired to a fragrant garden, clearly not wanting to deal with the kitchen and with any manifestations of human life in general, and Touch sits right on the ground next to a pile of plate armour, Hearing can boast of the rooms on the high floor covered with carpets and decorated with exquisite furniture and overlooking natural landscape
The development of the genre from antiquity to the present day: how did religion and the invention of oil painting contribute to the development of the genre in Europe, and why was the Hudson River so important? Read more
. When Taste and Touch visit Hearing, they are given a lesson of nobility.

Of course, Music rules in this house. In anticipation of the guests, she assembled a thematic collection of paintings, where one can see Apollo and Orpheus playing music, and all the instruments existing in Europe in the 16th-17th centuries, from a tubular bell and hunting horns to a harp, lute, organ and harpsichord by Hans Ruckers the Younger (huge even by modern standards). Both the artist and the harpsichord master entered the Guild of St. Luke and had an exemption from active duty due to their merits. The author of the notes lying on the round table, the lectern and the floor is also known: these are the madrigals of Peter Philips, an English composer, who worked at the court of Albert VII, Archduke of Austria and Archduchess Isabella of Austria.
Hugo van der Gus. The kneeling sir Edward Bankel before the angel playing the organ (part of a diptych of the Holy Trinity)

The notes are painted so accurately that even now it is possible to play and sing using them — this is an ancient tradition of Dutch painters, coming from the work by Hugo van der Goes Sir Edward Bonkil, kneels before a vision of the holy Trinity while an angel plays the organ (the angel is playing the hymn O Lux Beata Trinitas). Such a variety of instruments and accuracy allegorically shows that Hearing is detailed, it can distinguish many timbres and nuances.

But an equally important message is carried by a landscape, delimited, like a triptych, by columns of a veranda. It gives the feeling of a distance, moisture and unlimited breath. That’s the point — in the house of Music, there’s all this masterful thoroughness, ingenious devices, velvet cushions on the three-legged stools and women and children singing in the next room (in the left part of the painting), while over there, behind the veranda, there’s a huge, beautiful, absolutely divine space and a turquoise distance, where all the played and sung tunes will fly to. This space and air above, below, and beyond the dwelling of Music is her secret, life and inspiration.

Musical pieces largely about Music, about it creating itself from excitement, premonition and responses, about it being deep, free and orderly, about every detail of it having its own place and sufficient time — such works can be found among the pieces by Romantic composers, mainly Austrian: Schubert or Mahler. For example, the most lyrical part from Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No.5 — Adagietto, divided into three parts.
Author: Mariia Khrapachova
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