The making of the Musical Creativities cover painting

Pam Burnard, Musical Creativities
in Practice
, OUP, 2012

Last November I was contacted by Pamela Burnard. She had seen Leah Kardos' Feather Hammer album cover and felt that it would be fantastic to have a piece of original commissioned artwork as the front cover for her forthcoming book Musical Creativities in Practice.

I was really excited about the project, knowing a little something of the book through conversations with Leah, who I had recorded music and collaborated with for some years (with the Helzuki EP Little Bits of Nothing the main result).

The artwork the publishers, Oxford University Press, in mid-December so I had to work quickly, first by getting an understanding of the book through several phone calls, where Pam's energy and enthusiasm for the subject really across strongly, and then by digesting large chunks of the draft book emailed over in PDF.

Leah Kardos, Feather Hammer,
 Bigo and Twigetti, 2011
Previous commissions have been a more emotional and subconscious response to a work, whereas this needed a more robust, intellectual process to bring it together. Part of the practice of painting in oils, for me, is the differentiating between the communicative possibilities of alternative styles and methods: for this piece I needed to combine a number of approaches together in a single image. 

The different elements that were devised through several painted studies (see below) , some starting with specific ideas, some more improvisatory. I found quite quickly that the image would need a central motif around which I could hang the different painting styles, something representational and detailed as another methodology alongside the painterly mark making and abstract geometric forms that had immediately suggested themselves in my early drafts. 

I found the perfect setting in Vermeer’s painting The Music Lesson, or rather it’s bottom left hand corner. It seemed thematically appropriate and stripped of its characters and harpsichord was able to provide an illusionistic sense of space that could then be broken by the flat shapes and mark making. 

The process of putting all the ideas together on the final canvas suggested further ideas, as painting always should, revealing new things during its creation. The surrealist falling away of space as the tile floor reaches the foreground was one, the raw canvas revealed in between painted forms another. 

While the image contains references to painting movements and my own various paint handling methods, one specific artist I had in mind was Tom Phillips. Phillips is also a composer and taught Brian Eno art at Ipswich in the early sixties and his early work in particular engaged with music - we have a drawing entitled Studies for Music, 1968, at the Cecil Higgins Art Gallery where I work as a curatorial assistant. The of the lines and small patches of colour in the top right are inspired by his work. As those lines move across to the left and mingle with the pink paint marks (a nod to the Feather Hammer cover that got me this commission)  becoming an obscured musical staff, I had in mind the photograph in the book of Liza Lim writing notation with lots of quick pen marks. In the painting they have become something different, a creative response to her marks rather than mimicking them.

The final cover painting is my interpretation of a visual representation of the multiple practices of musical creativities discussed in this book. By drawing parallels with the multiple practices within the creation of painted artworks I hope the painting can do an appropriate job of setting the scene for the books themes. Hopefully, all these elements add up to a suitable creative response to Pam’s work, and I thank her again for thinking of me and inviting me to challenge myself and my creative practicve in this way. I get the feeling that’s what she does best.

Here's a video that nicely introduces the book's content.

The draft studies for Musical Creativities:

Study for Musical Creativities II, 2011
Study for Musical Creativities I, 2011
Studies for Musical Creativities III, 2011

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