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What Does Your Soul Look Like? A Conversation between a Painter and a Cellist.

Monday 19 July 2010
Words Spindle

What Does Your Soul Look Like? is a performance bringing together painter, Jamie Shaw and cellist and composer, Peter Gregson in what promised to be a spontaneous reaction to each other’s improvised work.

The live event marked the end of the Courvoisier Revolutionary Spirit festival 2010 based in the Future Gallery, London (still turfed in the aftermath of Andy Gibson’s mindapples), celebrating the talents of the Courvoisier Future500 in a collaborative frenzy. The performance was split into two halves, the first with Peter taking the lead with his cello and Jamie responding, and the second the reverse, resulting in two separate paintings and corresponding cello parts.

When I first heard of the event, I was expecting a dramatised performance with each string plucked or bowed resulting in an equally aggressive or tranquil painterly stroke. However the outcome was a much more considered approach to the overall experience of the music and painting.

Peter Gregson has done previous collaborative work of this nature in New York with artist Morgan O’Hara, which was much more akin to my expectations, with the resulting drawing representing the trace movements of Peter’s bow. Both Peter and Jamie were interested in taking this piece in a different direction.

Peter said: “The approach of, I do this, he draws a line is too disjointed. This project was designed to respond to the overall tone of the music.”

This piece looks to the origins of music and the undefined area of inspiration, which is certainly unchartered territory.

Jamie said: “Kandinsky was the first to paint in response to music, building up a language of symbols representing specific sounds. This work goes back a step, to where the music comes from, that’s why the exhibition is called What Does Your Soul Look Like?

When it comes to assessing how well these artists managed to delve into each other’s souls, it’s nearly impossible to say given the metaphysical nature of their task.

In the absence of paint flying across the room each time the music erupted, it is hard as an observer to determine how directly responsive their actions were to each other. However, given that the performance was not concerned with momentary reaction, the overall mood of each half was reflected beautifully in both mediums.

The first half produced an ambient soundscape with long drawn out notes reverberating around the room, reflected in a blue motion swept out across the canvas, broken up by a vibrating white trail of activity.

The second was a sharper mix of black and red dripping to form a shape not unlike a heart or butterfly, with an energetic introduction of pink that clashed brilliantly on top of the red. The music was appropriately darker in tone with a beautiful use of jarring intervals and harmonies, and a few comic effects to the canvas being tipped were thrown in for good measure!

As a performance, the second half, where Peter responded to Jamie, seemed to evoke a stronger sense of connection and reaction between the two artists. However this is surely testament to the immediacy of a musical instrument over the gradually building layers of a painting.

Overall, the experience of the performance was one of looking in on the studio of a painter, absorbed in his work, whilst listening to the music that inspires him. This elusive moment of conception, that can normally only be imagined when seeing the finished product in the gallery space, complicates itself further as the music talks back to the artist. Are the painter and cellist describing each other’s work, or do they both refer to a third common point: the mysterious realm of inspiration; the habitat of the soul?

I would say the former. With the process of creativity laid bare before you, the origins of inspiration still remain a mystery, as is the nature of the soul or the unconscious tucked away beyond reach. But this first collaboration between Peter Gregson and Jamie Shaw made for engaging watching and produced beautiful documentation of their connection. Their work hinted at the hidden depths of inspiration that we are innately aware of and has readdressed the age-old connection between these two abstract mediums.

An installation of the resulting treasures is currently being planned for the Hospital Club in Covent Garden, where Peter Gregson is doing a one-year creative residency. Details of this will be announced on www.thefuturetense.net