26 January 2024

The greatest Jazz trio ever; Satie, Monk and Bonnard!

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 28 December 2023, oil on canvas board, 30n X 25 cm

I have hardly been out to the Dunes to paint for  weeks now due to the weather. They had announced a hot dry summer this year, with high risk of fires, but up here on the North Coast of new South Wales it has been wet and wild. So I have been in the studio quite a bit and doing different, larger things. 

But here are studies, (two out of three done that day) which came one after the other a few weeks back when a window of sun opened up. I like them both but didn't include the third because it bored me. These two may be simple but they're not boring, for me anyway. They both seem to open up something from my past but my future too, like I'm standing in the middle of the doorframe.

Evening Prayer Brunswick Heads, 28 December 2023, oil on canvas board, 30n X 25 cm

And this idea brings me to music, because with a black coffee each morning, I sit at my piano and practice for a few hours each day purely for the joy of it. I am an amateur and who plays for fun, and I admit it without apologies to all the miseries going on in the world at home an abroad. Though I am mostly learning Jazz harmony, I've also been learning various small things from my favourites composers; Ravel and Satie mostly. Just six weeks ago, I began a new one, Satie's 4th Gnossienne, and I've just finished memorising it. Like so many other amateurs I really do love this process of learning these small works because of how they cement me into the present moment, day after day, after day. And like tennis practice, it's both cerebral and corporal all at once. The body remembers the bits the mind cannot grasp, and vice-versa.

For me, at my age, I make every effort to keep the mind switched on by all means possible. And ditto for the body, for which I also scheme to find opportunities to walk more each day as my heart doctor prescribes. 

So regarding music, I'm still like a child, fascinated and curious, but alas, with an older body. My end goal is just to be able to match any melody in my mind with an improvised harmony. Playing another composer's work has its own rewards but to be able to play what goes in my own heart and mind is another thing altogether. How I envy kids who learn instruments!

So, while practicing a Gnoesienne this morning something occurred to me that also relates to Painting too; To get to one I need to pass through the other. Basically it means that for me to really hear a composer like Thelonious Monk, I need to go through Erik Satie.

Monk and Satie, despite their great differences, are musicians of extreme originality, and they both seem to come from the weirder orbits of their own particular eras much like Vincent Van Gogh from his own.  

What I wanted to say is that I learn the mechanics of harmony from Satie in order to improvise whatever melodies exist in my head and which definitely go more towards Monk who is from my own period.

And this brings me to the world of Painting because as a colourist, I needed to pass through Pierre Bonnard, the great colourist of French Painting to understand colour, but also light too. Other painters will choose other teachers naturally, but we all need to find our own guides into the wild world of Painting and music. In other words, we all have to come from somewhere before we can even go somewhere else, unconsciously, or not.

But for the painter who values colour, Nature is the greatest teacher, but only if one learns to harness its charms. All the answers are in Nature if we, as painters, learn to ask the right questions. Somehow I thinks it's this way in writing Fiction or even writing a ballad too, because like painters using their eyes, writers and composers are also ask questions with their minds and the ears. All creative acts comes from the senses in one form of curiosity or another, and all ask questions of the natural world at large.

So in my roundabout way, I really wanted to say that these two small paintings are in essence, my own two questions of Nature's wild sea and sky here in Australia. Both are formulated by curiosity and craft yet both are also governed by my senses. But in the end, the elusive answer will always be the resulting painting itself.  

To a tourist these paintings might seem similar, but they are discreetly distinct due to the changing delicacies of the sky. A painter, me, in this case, needs to understand just what I really want and need from a motif. If I ask the right questions, I might be led more easily to a a successful painting which is the answer.

And yes, I know, all this may sound terribly obvious,,,, but you know, over time, it really does become even more more obvious.

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