Assignment 3 – A Response to Music

The object of this project of this assignment is to make work in response to a piece of music. I chose Pink Floyd’s ‘The Endless River’ for its variety of rhythms, meditative feel and abstract qualities.

As a warm up exercise, I taped a large piece of brown paper to my easel and worked in response to the music using charcoal. Increasingly, I am finding ‘warming up’ useful, not only to get into a creative mood and relinquish external thoughts, but also as a physical warm up, loosening my muscles, getting my whole body on the move.

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Charcoal on kraft paper, A2

For my assignment piece, I decided to work very large so that I could use my whole arm, and to work with a range of large oil sticks, pens, carbon and a brush on the end of a stick, in order to allow loose, sweeping motions. The sword-liner brush was chosen because of the wide range of marks it can make, both small and large. I cut a section from a large roll of paper and taped it to the floor on top of an old plastic table cloth. Having prepared my media, including tubs of yellow ochre, burnt umber and black gouache, I set up a tripod with a camera using a wide angle lens, set to record video.

The video has been  sped up and abbreviated.

I made marks in response to the music, without regard to previous marks. At the end of the record (which is 53 minutes long) my whole support was covered with a riot of marks.

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Oil stick, gouache and carbon, 150cm x 105cm

Analysing the results, I found the effect to be rather chaotic and undifferentiated. There were groups of strong, large marks which gave some sense of design, but on the whole it just seemed a mess.

Looking at it with fresh eyes, the next morning, I could find lots of areas which reminded me of Japanese or Chinese painting, but which were overcome by the density of marks around them. Once isolated by the camera, they could speak better.

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The sword-liner has generated calligraphic marks creating the Japanese feel. The limited palette has also worked well, adding depth to the layers. Hard, solid and soft, broken marks are produced by more or less paint. The silver oil stick and the carbon stick have created broken texture which in places resisted later layers. In comparison, a large brush tipped pen which I briefly used, created uniform, mechanical marks and was quickly abandoned.

Working on such a large support, with large media and extended gesture really allowed me to sink into the music without being cramped physically.

The next stage seemed logical; take the same support and start obliterating it, again to music. I used white gouache, and gesso for their different covering power and flow, and my largest brush. The ambition was to use a few, wide, sweeping marks.

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Sweeps of white gouache brushed over, gesso poured on, prior to brushing through

White designers gouache was washed in sweeps to soften and isolate areas of marks. Gesso was then poured over and swept through with a large brush. The obliteration was rather more total than I had intended and I used oil stick to join areas and reassert some of the underlying areas of darker marks. Using my whole arm with the oil stick has generated rather uniform sweeps, so the oil stick was rubbed in with a cloth to soften it, and also to soften the edges of the paint in areas.

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Once again, I needed  to walk away from this for a while and come back later to reassess it with fresh eyes. The big looping marks are too regular, both in arc and in thickness. I think that the obliteration process really called for something the size of a floor mop and the marks needed to be large but broken, in the style of Franz Kline. I tried to find something of value in small areas:

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The work has taken on an extra presence through the addition of gesso, applied impasto and the silver oil stick has picked up and emphasised this texture. Whilst most of the original marks have been lost, ghosts of them exist through the gouache, greatly softened and much more subtle.

Possibly the work would benefit from one or two really big marks. I printed out some photos of it and tried painting over them to explore this.

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It could potentially bring the piece to some resolution but I don’t have any tool big enough. An alternative was to extract an area of the support which had marks from every layer and revisit the original mark making process using the original music and brush to generate marks in the same family. Instead of white, I used yellow ochre and burnt umber, mixed on the brush.

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As always, I have my favourite part of this. I don’t like the vortex shape which has appeared in the upper left.

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This is were the works stands at present, but I can envisage returning to it and continuing to develop it, and even extract other areas of the original support and use them as a base for further pieces, even for life drawing, the original marks adding to the sense of a moving figure.

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