In 1947, French artist Yves Klein had an idea: one chord played for twenty minutes, followed by twenty minutes of silence. Then only a schoolboy, he would eventually make a name for himself not as a musician but for his minimalist paintings, cast in the trademarked International Klein Blue. Nonetheless, his composition was given sound in 1960. It was the sonic form of Klein’s visual art practice — a monochrome symphony.
The relationship between visual art and music may be instinctual, but it’s hard to articulate. The disciplines share a vernacular: tone, composition, rhythm, texture, repetition, form and line. You may have encountered the condition Synesthesia, where people associate colours with sounds. It seems a mysterious bridge exists between the visual and sonic realms, one that promises sublime views and soundscapes.
Music as form
In music theory, the components of a composition, other than lyrics, are conceptualized as abstract. Together, the notes, tones and rhythm unite to produce an overall effect – one can’t help but think of lines and strokes, colours and textures.
At a 1967 Prom concert, the acclaimed composer Nigel Butterley composed a piece of music to accompany a painting, created in real time, by John Peart. Indeed, Peart’s work often speaks with a musicality. There is a rhythm to his composition, a beat that hypnotises your field of vision.
Another way that music and visual art meet is through subject. David Boyd’s cherubs are often pictured playing music or cheek to cheek, entranced by some aural delight.
At age 17, Boyd attended the Melba Conservatorium of Music for piano. His studies however, were cut short in 1942 when he was conscripted into the army. When he was able to return, he felt unable to study, turning instead to visual art. Music remained a beating heart of his life – he would spend hours improvising on the piano.
Music as style
The soundtrack to the ROAR School is punk and jazz – urgent, political, radical. The spirit of these genres, particularly jazz, reverberates through their style. Pasquale Giardino’s brushstrokes are free and limber, improvised and undulating. David Larwill’s scenes burst with noise, they are a saxophone played on a busy street.
When Auguste Blackman paints, he listens to classical music. You can see it. His neo-expressionist works are loud, historically informed and grand. They are at once tragic and sentimental, a falsetto sung in the most heartfelt chord.
At their best, music and visual art are attempts to do the same thing: get beyond appearances to strike something strange, moving, edifying, true, exhilarating. They are more than the sum of their parts – feats that require close listening, careful viewing, time and an open mind.
Put on your favourite record, crack open a bottle of wine and gaze upon some art. It’s good for you.