Jazzing it up
dancing around the jazz
by Marco Maimeri
She creates her artworks through the peculiar technique
of acrylic on "gessoed paper", that is paper prepared with gesso,
and this thing has its weight even on the time she uses to paint musicians
and jazz music during the concerts and the festival she attends.
English by birth, she remained in Malta for love and so she has been introduced
to the world of jazz music, that since then has become an only one thing with her painting.
When did you get interested in Art and which was your formative path?
I have drawn and painted as far back as I can remember. My parents encouraged me to draw on big sheets of paper when I was very young. My mother let me make huge experimental messes with paint. I also had good art teachers at school, so I have always been able to express myself with art. After school I wanted to improve my skills, and I spent 6 years at art colleges. I studied Illustration because I wanted to draw as well as possible, and at the time courses in fine arts did not include much technical training. I bless my tutors now, as my ability to draw confidently and fast is something that gives me enormous pleasure. I still attend ‘Life’ groups, where I study the figure in the nude or clothed. I also keep a sketchbook with me and draw people whenever I have a chance. This means that I have a feeling for anatomy and how the human figure moves in space. It’s like musicians doing scales and exercises to keep the energy flowing easily. We all have to work alongside our talents to nurture them and keep them growing.
Why did you decide to use acrylic on “gessoed paper” instead of oil or watercolour?
Acrylics are the ideal medium for me to use when I am working fast at live events like the jazz festivals. The lighting is usually quite low and it would be hard to see well enough to use watercolours. Acrylics dry more quickly than oils, so I can overlay colours and also use them quite thickly if I want to. I prepare the “gessoed paper” in advance so that I have interesting surfaces to work on. I like the textures it gives me and the way that acrylic paint feels on it. I need all of my materials to be as easy to use as possible, as I have to work so quickly that there is no time to stop and think. I mix up about six basic pots of colour and then just paint what I see and feel. It’s like drawing with colour really. I work on a painting for about 15/20 minutes and then begin another. In that time I will have tried to get the shapes of the figures and captured the feeling of the music. I therefore do anything up to 20 paintings in an evening. The next day, when I look at them in daylight, the colours often need adjusting, as artificial lights distort everything. Some of the paintings require some work doing to them, some need very little, and some just have not worked at all. If I’m not sure I gesso over them for next time. It takes me a while to work through all the paintings, and I play very loud jazz music while I do it. I like to keep the energy the same if I can. Sometimes I lose the spontaneity by working on them – they lack the rhythm and sound – so I discard those too.
What feeling is there going on between the artist painting and the musicians performing, and how do you manage to convey all this to your artworks?
When I am working very fast, I don’t process what I am doing in any logical way. I don’t worry about what I am doing or what the outcome might be. I just paint. I find it very hard to speak or communicate because I am entirely focused on another level of connection. Painting / drawing in this way is a kind of meditation: I can just be present with the moment. Musicians also focus in this way: they become one with their instruments and nothing else matters except that one moment of now. Dancers do this too. Sound, colour and movement are really just different levels of vibration. Somehow the vibration connects us all and I really feel as if I am playing the instrument too, or singing the song, or performing the dance. Time stands still and nothing else matters, just the pulse of being alive and doing what I love most. For this reason I don’t find that working from photographs gives me anywhere near the same feeling or results. In some ways it would be much easier if I could do everything in the comfort of my studio. It’s a challenge setting my easel and paints up, and hoping that I can make the magic happen – it doesn’t always – but I do love doing it.
Is there specific reason why you seem to ignore the backgrounds and give relevance only to the subjects, in your paintings?
As the events I paint at are usually outdoors, at night, there are no backgrounds to speak of, but I don’t think that they are necessary anyway. The paintings are about the music and the musicians becoming one, joined by the sound and the atmosphere. Dark backgrounds show the colours and also perhaps the mystery of this music, that appears from sheer human talent and then disappears into the night again.
Why do you use so many warm colours and soft-rounded shapes when you draw during live performances?
The stage lighting is usually quite dramatic, with bright colours and highlights. My colours have to be quite strong so that I can even see them! The colour and light connects everything and everyone involved with creating that sound and that atmosphere. I often don’t finish the whole figure and leave them as part of the instrument and space around them. I also dance around a lot, especially if I like the music, so the marks I make have the rhythm and movement in them too.
When did music, especially Jazz music, come into your life, and into your paintings? Moreover did this passion grow when you started attending and painting the jazz festivals’ concerts?
I am actually English: I came on holiday to Malta when I was in my twenties, met a Maltese jazz piano player, fell madly in love with him, and didn’t go home. I had never heard much jazz before, but I loved Joni Mitchell and Stevie Wonder’s music. He introduced me to real jazz, but I don’t think I really appreciated it properly until I started trying to paint it. The Malta Jazz Festival was in its early days then, and of course he knew the original organiser, Charles City Gatt, who was also an artist, so I asked City If I could come and try to paint on site: that’s how it all started really, and I have been doing it now for about 20 years. I also paint at classical concerts and dance performances, but I much prefer jazz music: there is something abstract and exciting about it that I find very paintable.
Who are your favourite Jazz musicians, and which are the instruments you prefer? Do also play an instrument yourself or not? Moreover which are the most memorable concerts you attended and painted, and which musician did you enjoy painting?
I played the piano and the guitar – not very well, but I enjoyed it – until I met that Maltese musician. There was no way that I could ever play the way he did and I stopped. I would rather paint anyway! I love the curves of the double bass and the way that bass players become one with it. I remember a player, Glen Moore, member of the American band Oregon, who was so sensual it was as if he was making love to the bass. Those drawing were very hot. I remember my favourite bands overall by the paintings I did of them. Brad Mehldau, Avishai Cohen, Esperanza Spalding, and many others.
What do you expect from the next summer season in Malta and which festivals do you plan to attend?
I will definitely be painting at all three nights of the next Malta Jazz Festival. It’s such a breath-taking venue, below the bastions of Valletta, right next to the Grand Harbour: with jazz music too it’s heavenly! I will also be attending other classical music and dance performances during the summer, organised by the Malta Arts Festival. I will be putting them on my website, as I complete them, so you can follow me.
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