Spelman Evans Downer
Fine art paintings
Music Works Statement
Music Works is a new tab on my website, but it’s an old theme for me and the history of visual art. I still remember studying art history at Stanford University and coming across the paintings of Wassily Kandinsky who was a pioneer in the development of a completely abstract art that was directly inspired by listening to music. His many “Compositions” and “Improvisations” are landmarks of Modern Art. As I became obsessed with being a full-time painter, I began to use this concept that music could inspire and give special form to my visual creations.
By the 1990s, when I was competing in the New York art world, I was making my own music paintings. This work accelerated throughout the 2000s, especially when I was in my Alaska studio during the summertime. As always, my process is to listen to music as I paint, whatever I paint, which had been mostly map-space landscapes. In 2008 I read the biography of Eric Clapton and resolved to get out my old Cream records to see if I could somehow harness this music into something unique pictographically. “For Eric Clapton, Live Cream, Tales of Brave Ulysses, Dancing Through the Turquoise” is a turning point painting. The lyric about “dancing through the turquoise” had a special significance in that I live on a turquoise colored river; The Kenai, and named my place “Turquoise Bend”. I also love the semi-precious stone turquoise and associate the stone and it’s color with the desert where I spend my winters here in Joshua Tree, California.
I have done many music paintings every year since. I have a fondness for jazz, and feel the improvisational aspects of this music lends itself particularly well to my experiments with gesture, rhythm, and color. It helps that I have studied drumming and percussion. I see similarities between playing rhythms and phrases with drum sticks and making paintings with brush sticks.
In the summer of 2020 I had another revelation about music and painting. Sotheby’s Asia sold the master work Les Elements Confederes by Chu Teh-Chun whose work I had never seen. Here was a huge and absolutely magnificent pentaptych painting that had been inspired by Beethoven’s Symphony # 9. Chu Teh-Chun, I was to discover, was a pioneering artist who combined Chinese brush painting traditions with avant-garde French Modern Art. Both of these subjects had been instrumental in my personal development and I have been inspired anew to make music works.
The most influential studio art class I ever experienced was an elective class I took while in grad school at San Francisco State University in 1981; Chinese Brush Painting. So this summer I have re-studied the precepts of Chinese Brush Painting and am making music works that utilize just enamel paint. This stands out from my other landscape/map based works where I do use enamel but I combine it with oil impasto and increasingly different kinds of modeling paste to create topographies.
Using this relatively thin liquid enamel only, I began using big frayed brushes and the sides of stirring sticks to drip and throw the paint to the rhythm of the music. Along the way I discovered a unique way to “cast” the paint. I have studied and worked with both Jackson Pollock’s and Willem de Kooning’s ways of paint handing for 25 years now, and the paint handling that they pioneered I have adapted and modified to my own expression. I experienced a eureka moment this summer when I realized my hands were creating stunningly new paint skeins by literally casting the paint. As a retired fishing guide, and a consummate river rower I suppose it was natural for me to practice my fly casting in Alaska, as it turns out both on the water and in my studio. When I dipped my paint sticks into striated paint colors, cast and simultaneously flipped my wrist, I saw the magical creation of what I am now calling “candy canes”. Take a close look at the some of the paintings in this gallery and you will see these peppermint, turquoise, and black/red films of spinning twisted color dancing to the music.