The theme of musicians is something that I have returned to from time to time in my work. As a violinist myself I have always been interested in the idea of portraying musicians while playing, and in drawing the wonderful shapes created by stringed instruments and horns in particular. Sitting in rehearsal (when not playing!) allows me to observe and analyse the shapes and relationships created between players and their instruments.
During a recent visit to the National Portrait Gallery, I spent my time researching paintings of musicians, composers, artists and writers. All were portrayed with the tools of their trade… scores, pens, palettes and brushes in hand. The few images of instrumentalists show them with their instruments but at rest. It occurred to me how few paintings there are of musicians portrayed while actually playing.
Two famous paintings that spring to mind of musicians performing are the wonderful Madame Suggia by Augustus John (Tate), and the fabulous and atmospheric portrait of Yehudi Menuhin by Myfanwy Pavelic (NPG).
As a student I made a number of drawings and prints of violinists and quartets and i was thinking of returning to this theme a few years ago, when I was asked by the Rehearsal Orchestra to document their residential course which takes place each August during the Edinburgh Festival, and during other courses that take place throughout the year in London. So for the last few years I have been trying to work from the rather challenging subject of the moving figure.
Working from musicians during rehearsal remains a difficult theme to master. When in the studio working on a portrait or from the nude, a painting is created through the act of intense observation, often over a period of many weeks, or even months. Complete stillness is required from the model. So from this very quiet and calm atmosphere to one where a room full of people are all moving continuously. The music starts then stops. Instruments go up, then placed at rest as various parts are practiced and so on. A few moments looking away means that when returning to the subject things are never the same.This remains immensely challenging!
A whole new language of mark-making is required when working from the moving figure and I continue to try different techniques, methods and materials during each course to see how each responds.
This Autumn I have also been going along to other rehearsals to work in the hope of being able to collect more information which will enable to me to work on a number of painted portraits of musicians playing over the coming months. I am very grateful to Westminster Philharmonic, London Phoenix Orchestra and to Jill’s Quartet for allowing me to sit in the corner and sketch.
I will post some of the drawings from this summers Edinburgh course and the Rehearsal Orchestra’s Gotterdammerung weekend very soon…