Painting a symphony

The connection between music and art

The relationship between music and art is not novel at all. It has existed throughout history, bridging the two creative disciplines in a happy marriage, with the links garnering momentum in the late 19th and early 20th Century. It was in this period that Walter Pater coined his famous phrase: ‘All art constantly aspires towards the condition of music’. The examples ever since are endless; Andy Warhol’s banana emblazoning Velvet Underground’s album cover, Jackson Pollock’s citing contemporary jazz music as an influence or James McNeill Whistler’s dreamy lyrical works relating to Chopin’s piano compositions, to name but a few.

Andy Warhol, The Velvet Underground & Nico Album Cover, 1967

A particularly interesting example is Wassily Kandinsky, who both theoretically codified such links and expressed them within his own work. Having learnt the piano and cello at an early age, music played a core part in Kandinsky’s life, echoed in him naming his paintings ‘Compositions’, ‘Impressions’ and ‘Improvisations’. He was one of the first to write about synaesthesia, a condition that confuses the senses, blurring the boundaries between them. The form he experienced, the blending of sounds and colours, was particularly rare and is thought to have had a definitive influence on his own paintings, giving visual form to his experience of ‘hearing colours’. Reading like a symphony, the music cascading across his canvases seem to echo his words that ‘Colour is the keyboard. The eye is the hammer. The soul is the piano with its many strings’. It seems impossible to disconnect the two in the whirlwind composition, which is loud in its bold colours and dramatic shapes. The mix of linear and curved forms creates a clash but equally a harmonious appearance.

Broadway Boogie Woogie, Piet Mondrian, 1943

Mondrian’s Boogie Woogie Broadway presents a contrast in its rectilinear rigidity but nonetheless imbued with rhythmic dynamism. Working in New York, Piet Mondrian immersed himself in the jazz music scene of the time which was rapidly developing. Indeed, one of his favourite records was the album Boogie Woogie which is underpinned by a similar pace and energy as the painting. Reflecting the fast-paced environment of New York, his working method involved rapidly applying plastic and bits of paper to construct new rhythms across the canvas. Jazz music and modern art more generally certainly have many parallels, which seem clearly crystallised within Mondrian’s works. With both highly dependent on improvisation, both jazz and modern art never employed the same riffs or motifs twice; leading to constant innovation.

Characterised by the application of basic units of geometric shapes and primary colours into a unified composition, Mondrian’s work reflects the individual components of different instruments playing together in a wider ensemble to create more complex harmonies. The pulsating rhythm which is created leads the viewer’s eye to jump from intersection to intersection; mimetic of the pace of city life, as well as the grid plan of the city. Despite the linear plan, the work is frantic, fast-paced and vibrating; one never knows where to rest their gaze within the composition which continuously moves and plays.

The historic examples continue; the Beatles operating in the 60s; a boom period for both art and music and an opportunity to cement the link. With most of their members artists before joining the band, it is no surprise that their fan demographic reflected this. This was a vital moment in the development of the closely connected relationship, which persists to the current day. An interview with one of our latest signed artists, Ginwawa, about her exciting working process revealed that such links are very much still alive.

The soft colour palette and the fluidity of forms that characterise Ginwawa’s works are entrancing and meditative, luring the viewer in. Working in a range of medium, but primarily in paint, her work engages with fantastical characters and shapes, transporting the viewer to an alternative reality. Reflecting on the significance of music within her own life, Ginwawa’s insight invites us to consider the lyrical magic of her works in close connection to the musical accompaniments which enthral her. We allow her fluid works to wash over us, drinking in their musicality.

In Ginwawa’s own words:

I currently live in Xi'an, an ancient city in the centre of China.

I came here when I was ten years old. Before I was ten, I went to school in different places for various reasons. It was like I was constantly adapting to the new environment. I never felt stable. Because of these childhood experiences, I found an outlet for me: music, because no matter where you are, no matter what the scenery in front of you, as long as you hear good music, you will be comforted.

China is now in a stage of rapid development, even in ancient cities. Many local people go to work in cities that have developed earlier than here as if they are looking for a broader world, but I think this has made many people lose themselves and let me think back to my childhood, which also kept going around, so when I graduated, I didn't want to leave here quickly but stay here to find some answers of my own.

When it comes to music, I think of many great album covers. Because I like visual art, I will also notice the design and content of these covers when listening to music. So when listening to music, many covers will tell me this. The album character does not meet my appetite. Musicians also choose certain styles as covers to make them more recognizable, which I find very interesting.

Many times I like to draw while listening to a song. Maybe a certain melody will remind me of some pictures, and I will quickly follow that feeling and record it in my own way.

With music acting so often as a creative impetus for artistic production, we should encourage the blurring of boundaries between the two disciplines in order to realise the full extent of the creative potential they each offer. When operating in conjunction, they give rise to a symbiotic relationship that challenges the traditional tendency to separate the two.

Follow Nicole on her Instagram@nicole.kitsberg