Monday, February 9, 2009

Jazz and Painting

The largest art show ever held to celebrate the relationship between jazz and art ends its three-month run in Italy on February 15th. The Century of Jazz: art, cinema, music and photography from Picasso to Basquiat, is at MART, Museo di arte moderna e contemporanea di Trento e Roverato, in Roverato, near Lake Garda in the far north. The show, curated by Daniel Soutif, Gabriella Belli, and Joseph Ramoneda, will next move to the musèe du quai Branly in Paris for three months and then to the CCCN in Barcellona from July 21st to October 18th.

Many painters such as Dubuffet, Leger, Pollack, Grosz, Van Dongen, Picabia, Picasso, Otto Dix, Mattisse, Stuart Davis and Man Ray have been inspired by jazz and are represented in the show, not to mention record jackets and a number of films with jazz soundtracks. Several musicians, most notably Miles Davis, also painted, and have space in the show. Daniel Soutil, the organizer, says that in his opinion, Mondrian, whose work was transformed into the style we know him for by his exposure to jazz, best captured the essence of the music. What then, is the essence of jazz; spontaneity, rhythm, exuberance, emotion, aural decoration, composition, texture? Fortunately, many people see it in different ways, and many are represented in the show. My own feeling is that the work of Paul Klee, or even more, that of Miro, reflect the spirit of jazz better than does that of Mondrian, but I have no idea if either of them paid any attention to jazz. We do know that Jackson Pollack, whose work might suggest an affinity with Ornette Coleman or Albert Ayler, listened to Dixieland while painting. Many people painting jazz musicians or suggesting images of the music today, tend to favor expressionism, whether figurative or abstract. That approach often works well but it runs the risk of becoming a convention. My own paintings of jazz figures are really reinterpretations of old paintings, especially 14th century icons, rather than any attempt at a graphic interpretation of the music. The music moves us in different ways. The notable thing is that it has moved so many and continues to do so.

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