Monday, April 30, 2012

"Jazz", a painting

This painting has been a long time in formation. The drummer is inspired by photo I shot in New Orleans a few years ago. For the record, all the things you've heard about New Orleans are true. Have you heard that people dance in the streets to jazz all day? And that everywhere wrought iron drips like lace? Yup, truth. Culture, cuisine, history, art, and music. New Orleans has it all. I admit, I fell in love a little. With the city, and with jazz. 

Jazz. I like it. And sometimes I hate it. It's so restless. So aching. Even the lively songs with bright notes and lots brass have this urgent, almost contradictory feel. And then there are the bluesy, sobbing ones that bring your soul all choking into your throat. 

Jazz, and other types of music that have a lot of aching and dissonance, teach me a lot. I love the parts of a song that are chilling and awful. There is a rare beauty there. But I kind of hold my breath and want the music to speed along to the end, or the next note, where there is resolution and the beauty is a little less wild. More safe. 

I live that way sometimes, too. Holding my breath and not enjoying the beauty of dissonance. Of conflicting emotion. Of questions that can't be answered now. Of un-redeemed brokenness. 

I want to breathe in those chords. 

In this painting, I tried to capture what jazz... and melancholy, bluesy music in general... makes me feel. A conflicting jumble of aching and reveling. And I wanted to celebrate the unresolved. The dissonant. In the world and in me. Redemption will come. It will be made right. But redemption might not be so breath-taking if the broken is pretended away. 

Here's what I did to try to portray all that: 

Blue and red are conflicting colors. The human eye can't process them both simultaneously. True story. 

The graffiti and more urban style felt fitting because life is simply more raw and honest on street level.

The drummer facing away from the black circle, his back and the circle of his hat juxtaposed against each other, hopefully lent a feeling of conflict to the composition, while the position of the round cymbal (again, hopefully) lends enough direction to the composition to keep it fluid.

Only painting the highlights on the drummer and cymbal, then switching to paining the shadows and black values on his neck and beard are another contrast. 

I really had a lot of fun with this piece. It's a completely new style for me, and it took a while to stop being careful. For the blues in the background, I brushed water on the canvas (like a watercolor wash) and floated the color on top, letting it do what it wanted. The only intentional color blending I did was the edges, for which I added black to darken the blue and kept building it until the edges had a more contained, finished feel. Immediately after brushing the graffiti (because I used acrylic paint, and it dries fast), I sprayed the letters with water and let the color run. I wasn't entirely sure I wanted the cool blue shades breached, but it was totally fascinating to watch. Again, learning not to be so careful. I also had fun letting the paint get a little dry and "globby", using it to add some 3-d texture in the lettering and the drummer's beard. 

So, breathe in the dissonance. And create things. It keeps you alive.


Marita said...

i like this. a lot. even more now that you've explained some of the meaning and thought behind it. you've got some 'mazing skills there, becca!

Conrad said...

I can rescpect this.

Anita said...

Pretend the broken away? What a bewitching line, and a tempting one to live. Thanks for not pretending.

Katrina said...

can i buy it? please? i'm in love. <3

Becca said...

Thank you all for your kind words! Really, the purpose of art is to communicate, and hearing feedback is validating. Thank you.

Katrina, it will be for sale this fall. :) It's part of a gallery exhibit I'm working on, but after the gallery opening it's fair game. If you want, you can email your contact info to me ( and I'll notify you when it's available.

Shari Zook said...

Wow. Beautiful! You didn't mention two of the things that spoke to me most in the painting... 1, the blood-red dripping letters look like suffering just by themselves, and 2, the black circle looks to me like a barrel on its side--the center of the cymbal doubles as its spout, and the stand becomes a trickle draining out, an endless emptying. Did you intend it? The positions are perfect, and it's my favorite thing about the picture. Lots of Soul. Great job!