Choosing Life and Bending the Paint

Pastel Still Life with Teapot, Flowers and Unmentionables
copyright, 1986, Molly Larson Cook

An artist can find inspiration almost anywhere. And ours is not to question from whence or why.

When I started painting back in the 1980s in Massachusetts, I put together whatever I had handy for my pastel still lifes. In this case, some of my undies. Don’t worry – this is as racy as it got.

Who knows why we paint or create what we do? I was reading about artist Frank Stella the other day who said in a recent interview that he chose to paint abstracts rather than figurative art, because, “I didn’t like people very much.”

Well, that wasn’t quite the whole story. He went on to say that he wasn’t inspired by models who came in, took off their bathrobes and sat alone on a chair. He felt sorry for them. “Poor girls.”

I get that. But it means something different to me. He didn’t see life in those models and neither did I. I paint abstracts because that’s where I find the life. I know that might seem a little odd, but you know, the spirit is where we find it.

I started with figurative work – nudes, landscapes, flowers, fruit, undies – and, more than once, my own hand or foot because they were available for practice. But I didn’t find the life I was looking for until I made my way to abstract expression and pure color, a kind of holdover from my earliest days studying art history.

I was caught up in it all – slide after slide of art – but I really sat up and took notice when we got to the abstract expressionists. I still enjoy looking at other kinds of work, but it’s not how I want to spend my days.

Even working on the abstracts, I go for color every time. I often begin with something quiet, but it’s not long before I have to change that. And more and more I understand why. Why do I look at a canvas with soft or orderly colors and reach for a tube of red to slash across it?

The root for “vivid” is the Latin word for “spirited, animated, lively, full of life,” from vivus “alive,” “to live”. And there I am.

That’s what painting is for me. Life. Spirit. Animation. Something vivid.

It doesn’t have to be red, but it does have to somehow animate the canvas, bring it to life. It’s what I do. I’m sure that’s why I’ve chosen to not only paint “The Colors of Jazz,” but also why I still love hanging in the jazz world.

Jazz, too, is about life. Animation. Something vivid. It’s no accident that one of my art mentors, whom I’ve never met, is also a jazz musician. I hear and see the same kinds of risks in his paintings and the music.

Cintia Herzberger writing on the “Singulart” blog said this about Jackson Pollock:

“During the act of painting, he immersed himself in the hot, spontaneous and swinging rhythm of the music. The ‘flaring, splashing and raging’ of his compositions are in direct exchange with the boundless, energetic quality of jazz music. His abstract paintings are characterized by a spontaneous, gestural colour flow that resembles a visualized symphony. A composition of harmony and unrest, of dynamics and statics. This use of spontaneous improvisation can also be found in the jazz aesthetic, where the performer has the freedom to improvise solos. The artist never loses the overall structure.

“In his Action Paintings, Jackson Pollock captures an immediate, uninhibited and, it seems, unleashed power. He composes colours, splashes and lines like melodies, rhythms and structures in jazz music.”

Comparing himself to legendary trumpeter Miles Davis, abstract artist Willem de Kooning once wrote: “Miles Davis bends the notes. He doesn’t play them, he bends them. I bend the paint.”

Other thoughts on jazz and, dare I say, art? There’s poetry here:

We don’t talk music. We just play. – Monty Alexander

You blows who you is. – Louis Armstrong

Jazz is something you have to feel, something you have to live. Well, jazz is to me, a complete lifestyle. It’s bigger than a word. It’s a much bigger force than just something that you can say. – Ray Brown

You should never be comfortable, man. Being comfortable fouled up a lot of musicians. – Miles Davis

Jazz is not a what, it is a how. – Bill Evans

Music is your experience, your thoughts, your wisdom. If you don’t live it, it won’t come out of your horn. – Charlie Parker

Jazz is not just music, it’s a way of life, it’s a way of being, a way of thinking. – Nina Simone

Just to keep it interesting I’ll tune the guitar randomly, so I don’t know what’s going to come out. – Jim Hall

So, I’ll carry on with the Colors of Jazz and let the rest of it go – the nudes and flowers and tea pots and undies and realities. For me and my one and only outrageous life in art, you already know how I want to spend my time.


2 thoughts on “Choosing Life and Bending the Paint

  1. It means more than you know that you get all this and get why it matters to me…Thank you, baby…

  2. Spoken like a true artist who likes canvases to come alive under your strokes and sweeps to become something almost alive but it might also have something to do with life in the TREME and real jazz! Love you baby!

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