In the words of famed contemporary Broadway composer, William Finn, ‘You gotta have heart and music.’ Take out the ‘h’ and the ‘e’ to make ‘art and music’ and I’d argue the phrase still strongly applies. It seems as though the curating team at Imitate Modern would agree as they present Rhythm, a multidisciplinary exhibition opening 31st May at their Piccadilly space.
The show pays homage to the arts in a wider sense with an exciting collection of works featuring musical icons Prince, Bowie, Elvis and Michael Jackson. But aside from portraying real life music artists, the work on view also celebrates the wider purpose of music and rhythm in our lives, reminding us of its’ vitality, universality and great importance.
Rhythm will no doubt be a stellar and fresh way to begin the summer with its explosive mix of colour, styles and mediums that include photography, painting, sculpture and portraiture. The show’s title piece ‘Rhythm’ by Ed Ball is truly a celebration of colour, music and life and brings everything together so seamlessly.
ArtAttack had the chance to interview a few of these artists to hear about their artistic practicee, thoughts on the exhibition and delve into what music and pop culture means to them.
ArtAttack: I have been a fan of your work for quite some time and particularly enjoy your portrayal of pop icons. Can you tell us a bit about how and why you decided to begin painting celebrities?
Lukas Avalon: First of all thanks for your support and love!
About 6 – 7 years ago I was working on designs for my t-shirt brand and looking for production companies to work with, but very quickly I started to get frustrated as my ideas were not coming alive as I envisioned them because I lost the control over production once I sent the designs I made to the production companies. Soon I discovered the stencil process, so I bought some paint and canvasses to see what I could do with it.
It wasn’t working out that great at first but I liked the idea of being able to touch and see my ideas coming alive without anybody’s help. I investigated what other stencil artists were doing and realised I want to push my stencil art further and make it look like fine art by adding more layers and getting as close as I could to make them look like photographs from which I was working on.
After some months of my efforts a friend of mine visited me at my studio where he took the picture of one of my early Grace Kelly paintings and posted it on Twitter. Soon after he told me Imitate Modern gallery in London were interested in working with me and that I was to start working towards my first group exhibition with them. I decided to paint celebrity portraits because I love the idea of what they can represent to people; different viewers can associate completely different meanings with them.
AA: So Prince and Bowie for this exhibition – 2 of the greats sadly lost this year and two artists that many people seem to really relate to and connect with. Do you feel you have a special connection with these musicians and if so, can you tell us a bit about it? Does that make painting them even more special?
LA: Well I don’t think that I have a special connection with Prince and David Bowie but I respect them and their work and am conscious that we have lost two great artists who had so much more to offer to the world and the music industry. Shame we lost them both so early. What makes those paintings even more special to me is that I realized how lucky we have been to witness the careers of exceptional artists like them.
ArtAttack: I know that music is a big part of your creative process. Has this always been the case and can you delve a bit deeper into it for us to explain how you work with the music.
Ed Ball: Painting directly to music did not happen overnight, the process began around 11 years ago, but looking back I realise now that I always had music playing while I was in a creative way of working, and I loved the flow that music offered to me. My love for music goes back a long way, my dad loved music and it was always playing in the house. Friday night was my dad’s music night when a wide range of music was played, and played loud; I’m not sure why the neighbours never complained!
As a child I was always drawn to interesting music, especially early electronic music. The first song that I remember thinking was special was David Bowie’s ‘Space Oddity’; I loved the track, and although mainly instrumental it has a lovely strange sounding Stylophone bit at the start and there is plenty of Mellotron throughout the album. I clearly remember a turning point aged 7, and being amazed as I listened to Kraftwerk’s ‘Autobahn’ for the first time. ‘Wow I thought, this is amazing, what is it?’ Then three years later I remember being totally transfixed by the bass line of ‘I feel love’ by Giorgio Moroder and Donna Summer, and I think my love for a wide variety of electronic urban music like Drum ’n’ Bass and Hip-Hop came from listening to those early days of pioneering electronic music, coupled with watching 70’s American prime time shows filled wall to wall with funky scores, rare grooves and a bit of Huggy Bear!
I have always been intrigued by artists that want to work with our emotions. Like Rothko, who had a desire to reach out to viewers of his work and play on their emotions and connect with his paintings, not only visually but emotionally. Rothko stated that he was “interested only in expressing basic human emotions”. I love this concept and it is the driving force behind any project I work on. This is where the idea of painting to music resonated with me, that music has the ability to connect on an emotional level. Every culture has music, it’s a truly uniting force; from the largest cities to the smallest tribes, music is everywhere in its remarkable range of rhythms, beats, sounds and melodies.
With all this in mind I could not think of a better medium to base my creative process around, and to try and achieve my simple aim of connection on a form of emotional level. My goal is to take the raw emotion of a piece of music and physically paint it – fast, without thought, feeling and capturing the raw energy of the beat and rhythm.
What I’m trying to do is to paint to music using a process that is related more to dance than the straight forward process of applying brushstrokes to canvas. It sounds strange, but what I mean by that is that I paint in a very free flowing style that allows me to be very physical with the painting process. As with dancing when you physically move to the beat and rhythm I move around the canvas and launch paint towards it in time with beat and rhythm. This gives a visceral energy to the piece. I use a fast painting style to bring movement and feeling within the work, naturally marrying the rhythm of colour, structure and symmetry as I go along. When I know it is going to work I hit a state of ‘flow’, which is a feeling you have when you switch to autopilot and things happen automatically for you without any conscious consideration. It’s a time when hours seem like minutes and everything just works.
AA: For ‘Rhythm (Incredible Sound)’ you were inspired by Goldie – can you tell us a bit about your connection with this particular artist and what he means to you?
EB: My connection with Goldie goes back to the release of ‘Timeless’. I wish I could say I was listening to the forefront of Drum ’n’ Bass at that time, but it was not until I heard ‘Timeless’ that my head was completely turned to this fantastic style of music. Released in September 1995, ‘Timeless’ celebrated it’s 20th anniversary last year and when I heard it for the first time it stopped me dead in my tracks! I have always searched for something different in music, whether trawling through history or looking to the future. When I walked through the doors of Wayahead Records in Derby and heard a sound like nothing I had heard before bouncing off the walls, I rushed up to one of the guys behind the counter and said, ‘what the hell is this playing, I need it in my life now!’
After this album I started looking into who Goldie was, and I remember watching ‘Passengers’, a documentary series about counter culture back in the 90’s in which Goldie featured in one of their episodes. Over the years what I really like about Goldie is that he is not worried about being a creative polymath, he flows between many creative genres and is successful in them all, not only as a musician but also as an accomplished artist and actor. Being a multi-creative is something I really believe in; artists seem to get pigeonholed as either painters, sculptures, musicians, actors, and the freedom to flow between them doesn’t seem to be an accepted norm. This is what I’m trying to do as an artist, I want to flow between creative adventures and avenues; this is why I look up to what Goldie has achieved.
The painting at the show ‘Rhythm (Incredible Sound)’ was painted to Goldie’s ‘Incredible sound of Drum ‘n’ Bass’, which was mixed by Goldie himself and featured many of the artists that were signed to his Metal Heads label at the time.
One day when the time feels right I will paint each track from ‘Timeless’. I wanted to do this last year to celebrate its 20th anniversary, but I was simply too busy to lay down the time that this project and collection deserved; hopefully I will find the time soon. As for Goldie, to me he means a great deal. I get to paint to an amazing sonic pallet, I look up to his diversity, and he is a true inspiration in what he has achieved creatively. Oh and he is also a fellow West Midlander!
ArtAttack: What was the impetus to transition from tattoo art to visual arts and what has been most interesting about the transition?
Henry Hate: That’s a good question. I seriously I thought that the transition would be easy however I met certain obstacles I hadn’t put into the equation. One was that as a tattoo artist, some perceive you much like a burger short order cook to a chef. Graffiti artists looked at me as an outsider as I didn’t do throw ups or scale buildings at odd hours to do a piece. Certain galleries wouldn’t even so much as say fuck off, let alone respond to my emails; they’d just flat out ignore me. Coming from a punk background it simply made me more determined to say “fuck this I will do it more”. It has certainly motivated me more to continue on my journey. I never thought that some would dismiss the urban context of my work as there are people and celebrities all over who wear my work on the street. The commercial world caught on first, and I thought it would be the other way around. But that’s how it happened for Warhol, who as a kid I was obsessed with.
AA: It must be so amazing leaving a piece of artwork on someone’s body as you literally become a part of them. Can you tell us a bit about how it feels to tattoo an artist you admire? Is there a very personal element to it or is ‘just a job?’
HH: There is a point of intimacy with tattooing a client. As the work is based on trust, there is a personal exchange and getting to know the individual, then finally a cash transaction. I tell my apprentice it’s like sleeping with the person. You get to know them and the work is permanently left. They tell their friends and the link continues by them telling their friends.
With art it’s a much different procedure. Both have narratives but the tattoo is a narrative that your client wants. My art allows me my own narrative of what I want to say. With a tattoo you are essentially trying to make the narrative visually under the client’s direction first and foremost. Ultimately it’s an honour that people trust you enough or seek you out for work to put on them. It’s also rewarding when your client wears your work then wants to buy a piece for their home to be featured in their home. It’s an extension of my creative output but the fine art lives on forever. The tattoo goes when they go.
– India Irving
Rhythm will be on view at Imitate Modern from 31st May – 9th June, 2016; Private View: 1st June; 90 Piccadilly, London, W1J 7NE; Open Monday – Friday 10AM-6PM and weekends by appointment; Admission: Free