Salonen’s Violin Concerto, 2019
acrylic paint on raw unstretched canvas, 4' x 14'

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On Painting Music – A Translation

My impulsive decision to paint a “translation” of Esa-Pekka Salonen’s violin concerto into a very large painting was more complicated than what I initially thought. Although I have been translating music into paintings for a while, beginning in 1989 with nine mixed media works based on Boulez’s Le Marteau sans maître, I never undertook such a challenging project in terms of the size of the canvas. The music was not just going to be simply depicted in visual form. It would be more than a feeling being put down on canvas, but rather the effect the music was having in my mind. Thus, I no longer saw the process as a mere translation from sound elements to visual elements, but a situation where the visual elements were themselves a transformation of something in my internal world. It was this something that would wind up being depicted in the painting! But what WAS this something? I don’t think it was just a feeling because there was already a transformation. And perhaps this transformation was what constituted the creative work, a transformation that moved onward by itself, propelled by mysterious forces of which I was not aware – in sum, a work that was, like most creative work, out of the artist's control.

Believing that this process should be documented, I realized it would have to begin with my unwrapping the loose 14-foot long canvas material that would be put in place on my studio floor. The presence of the film crew was essential during the process. I felt held and supported by all four of them and will be forever grateful for their contribution.

Unlike the Boulez work where I took notes while I listened and painted from those notes later, I went directly from the sound of Salonen’s music with which I was familiar to using acrylic paints, thick brushes and squirt bottles directly on the raw canvas. The material would absorb the colors in what has been called a “soak stain,” a technique developed by artist Helen Frankenthaler, a favorite of mine. I welcomed the halo effect this technique produced and delighted on squirting thin paint squiggles over them (as seen in close-up detail photos). Driven by the power of the music which seemed to take possession of my body, I stood still in amazement at what I had been able to do. Perhaps I will get some answers when I see the resulting film.

Details from Salonen’s Violin Concerto, 2019

Installation in Venice studio August 12, 2019

artwork ©Desy Safán-Gerard all rights reserved