Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Men with mustaches

Lazar Radak
13" x 9.5", oil on wood, 2014

Mukim Tahir Oturan
12" x 6.5", oil on wood, 2014
The wonderful thing about the research in the music of the past, and the research of music from far away places is that one is confronted with a humanity that is so strange yet so familiar. Considering the now widely accepted assumption that people from long ago and far away places had the same mental capacities than we have, it tells us a lot about our own identity. Through otherness, or through negation, we can see a more completed picture of what it means to be a creative human being. We can see historical connections and understand better how the culture is evolving. In the arts we conclude now that the work that was made 40,000 years ago in caves in France, Indonesia, and Australia, was as cognitively advanced as what is produced in the present. Music is more difficult because recordings only go back a little over a hundred years. Music notation has been around longer but not nearly to extent that we witness in visual art. We have to do with approximation then, which gets harder and harder in the current global culture. There is however a wealth of historic recording that provide a glimpse into what music could have been like ages ago. Early ethnomusicological recordings document societies that did not have contact yet with western civilization and whose music, it can be assumed, was relatively unchanged throughout the centuries. Early recordings also bear witness to a fast vanishing oral poetry tradition. The music and poetry from the more remote areas of classical Greece, such as Macedonia, that tradition was alive well into the 20th century. An insight in the workings of oral poetry provides invaluable information for the ongoing debate of originality, authorship, copyright, and plagiarism in western discourse. Listening to oral poetry performed by Balkan musicians strikes a chord of timelessness into the listener. In a similar vein it explains the durable character of old blues recording (that also stem from an oral tradition). The two men with mustaches depicted here come from areas with a long Grecian tradition. Macedonian Lazar Radak performs an epic poem in the Homeric tradition accompanied by the customary one-string gusle, while Mukim Tahir Oturan hails from Şanlıurfa in Southeast Turkey. His music stems from ancient Islamic traditions.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Harmonica Frank (Facebook)

Harmonica Frank Floyd
11" x 9.75", oil on wood, 2014
Harmonica Frank Floyd
10.5" x 8", pastel on wood, 2004
The invitation postcard for The Top 100 2004 exhibition featured this image of Harmonica Frank. His song Swamp Root was #2 that year. That same image became my avatar when it was time to give in to the Facebook lure. He still is my alter ego there, never changed the avatar. Ten years later Harmonica Frank is in the list again and I used the same photo to create the painting from (top). The song this year is not Swamp Root but Mosquito Bay Britches. The version is from a German TV broadcast, and the German subtitles are hilarious but meant so serious. I love it when they do that (and they always do: Johnny Rotten becomes Johnny Verdorben). The song is hilarious too, I had no idea as to how Harmonica Frank pays his harmonica. Watch below to find out for yourself how he does it.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Surrealist Techniques (4)

Janet Hsieh

Kitty Gallagher

Ahmad Ehbadi


Jolie Holland/Fayza Ahmad

Sviatoslav Richter/Naseebo Lal

Chikaha Rahma/Nico

John Lomax/anon. Nigerian musician in London

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Rachid Taha

Rachid Taha
8" x 10"
oil on canvas panel, 2014
Sometimes there is a name in the list of the 100 songs that makes you wonder how in the hell it got there. Who is this? But the top 100 is objective and a painting is made for every song. Here's then one for Khalouni/Ya Oumri by the Algerian musician Rachid Taha. I don't even know how I found the song (it must have been through the blog Bodega Pop that I follow.) Of course, like most recordings, you can find it on YouTube. I found it, and after playing the video I realized why it is in the top 100. For a second I thought it was a Sex Pistols song when the video started playing. And to answer my earlier question (he also has a Wikipedia page): Rachid Taha is 56 years old, born in Sig, Algeria, residing in France. His music is a blend of Raï, funk, and punk. He was influenced by the Clash. It was mutual, his early music (with a band called Carte de Sejour, that I will try to find next) apparently inspired the Clash to write Rocking the Casbah. And yes, despite the deluge of photographic images that you may seen pass the review, I still paint, can't give it up. Mr. Taha's portrait took little over an hour to paint, probably the fastest painting in oils that you see in this year's list. The portrait of this handsome Algerian simply formed itself on top of this ridiculously bad flower still life painting that I'd produced teaching a one evening flower painting class in Bonita (ouch!)

Surrealist Techniques (3)

The Vivian Girls
Cat Power/John Storm Roberts
Kel Hamza
The Flaming Lips
John Storm Roberts/Klezmer group
Jessica Lea Mayfield
Pounding maize
Nina Simone
K.B. Sundarambal

Antoñita Romero

Antoñita Romero
4" x 2.5", surrealist techniques and
digital manipulation on photograph, 2014
The series of works using surrealist techniques are still going. They count to nearly 100 now and the first one to be designated to be part of the Top 100 2013/14 is this image of Antoñita Romero. For the exhibition of the 100 works I plan on rephotographing this piece, print it bigger, mat it, and frame it. I painted Ms. Romero before (in 2010) and I wasn't going to do it again. It's a lovely painting, the one from 2010, but I don't understand why I didn't paint her characteristic fan sticking out from the top of her head. Antoñita Romero is Spanish and the style of music she sings is flamenco. The song Bereberito is a bit poppy compared to the deep serious emotional music flamenco is known for. I have it on a 45 and whenever I'm a party deejay I'm sure to include it in the playlist. Before this year I haven't been a party deejay since 2010, hence the omission in the in between years.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Surrealist Techniques (2)

Makes you think...50 images constructed in less than a week. Here's a second selection of of images created using surrealist techniques.

Egyptian woman with child

Egyptian women/Maria van Boekel

Busta Rhymes

Mark E. Smith/Khatereh Parvaneh

Naseebo Lal

Nadya Tolonnikova


Cat Power

Sunday, October 12, 2014


Cat Power
6" x 6", oil on canvas, 2014
Classic rock is one of those genres it is best to stay away from. Yet it is that music you are surrounded with all the time. The radio, the bars, at parties, it seems to be the default setting for the music of my generation. Of course, as it is with every genre, there are some great recordings out there. With classic rock they are called anthems. Let me propose a top 10 of classic rock anthems. Just out of the top of my head the following come to mind.
1. The Flaming Lips – Do You Realize?? (2002, this has to be my all time favorite)
2. Oasis – Wonderwall (1995, I like Cat Power's version the best though)
3. Led Zeppelin – Since I've Been Loving You (1970)
4. Aerosmith – Dream On (1973)
5. Steve Miller Band – The Joker (1973)
6. Adele – Rolling in the Deep (2010)
7. The Who – Baba O'Riley (1971)
8. Black Sabbath – Iron Man (1970)
9. Lynyrd Skynyrd – Free Bird (1976)
10. King Crimson – The Court of the Crimson King (1969)

That was actually pretty hard to come up with ten of them on the spot. You may notice that there is only one female performer included in the list. Most lists of classic rock songs probably don't feature any as it continues to be a rather chauvinistic genre. I've come to live by this golden rule if it comes to evaluating genres and eras of the 20th century and beyond. If there aren't too many women involved with it, it's most likely devoid of any real meaning. There I've said it! Wonderwall in the version of Cat Power was already in the bottom part of this year's list when I heard it on a Tumblr page maintained by one of my college freshman art appreciation students from Punta Gorda. A rather unlikely source I might add. Wonderwall was recorded live in the studio by John Peel for BBC radio.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Leonard Cohen

Leonard Cohen
16" x 11", oil on plywood, 2014
Dance me to the End of Love is the first song this year that enters the list by selection of someone else. That other person is my significant other and how appropriate is the theme of the song that deals with longevity of marriage. It’s one of those songs whose beauty isn’t bothered by repetitious play (as my significant other likes to do when a song strikes her fancy). The singer is of course the Canadian troubadour Leonard Cohen. The great poet has given to the world a number songs that have found their way into a universal human consciousness. Hallelujah is the most significant of those, but also Suzanne, Sisters of Mercy and others. Dance Me to the End of Love is one of these and I particularly like the line in the last strophe: "Touch me with your naked hands, touch me with your gloves". What a wonderful rhyme love and glove is.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Surrealist Techniques

Over the years I've kept all the print-outs that were the source materials for top 100 paintings. A thousand pictures neatly organized in binders. Most pictures are black and white images downloaded from the internet. The intention always was for this to be a part of The Top 100 Archive, an ambition that I hope to establish within the next five years or so. My favorite pictures in the binders are those photos that have smudges of paint on it, notes to self for planning the painting, and corners torn off because they were taped to my easel. The images gathered in 2013 and 14 are not yet in binders. Loose sheets are scattered through my studio, some in manilla folders, others taped to the wall. I decided I would play with these pictures before they will be stored in sheet protectors inside a few new binders. Playing is fun and I've had lots of it during the last couple of evenings. The whole project started because of a homework assignment in my art appreciation course called Surrealist Games. I figured I should practice what I preach, thus out came the hobby materials. Cutting, pasting, and all sorts of change happenings through surrealist techniques. I wonder what my students will come up with. Thought I share some of this images. All images exist on 8.5" x 11" copy paper, and were all created in 2014. Materials used are black and white prints, acrylic paint, and pen. Try some yourself, you won't be disappointed.

Collage: M.I.A. and Karen Hill

Decalcomania: Björk

Decalcomania: Nekrasov Cossacks

Decalcomania: Alexander Scriabin

Decalcomania: Kathleen Hanna

Decalcomania: Rosa Balistreri

Étrécissement: Roro native and Faiza Ahmed

Tressage: Mariko Gotō and Celia Cruz

Outography: Huggy Bear and Nadia Tolokonnikova

Cubomania: Mariko Gotō and Edith Piaf

Deben Battacharya and Khatereh Parvaneh

Monday, September 29, 2014

Gee Vaucher and Crass (2)

Gee Vaucher
9" x 8", oil on wood, 2014
Less than two weeks after I painted a portrait of Gee Vaucher, I painted a second one, softer, yet nearly identical to the first. The song from the top 100 it illustrates is Nagasaki Nightmare, a single by Crass from 1981. The softness of the painting is in stark contrast with the rawness of the song. Yet the song, and the music of Crass in general have something sweet to it. Sweet as in human honesty, some kind of universal sweetness. The musicians of the collective that were Crass at the time of Nagasaki Nightmare, were Steve Ignorant, Penny Rimbaud, N.A. Palmer, Joy de Vivre, Eve Libertine, Pete Wright, and Phil Free.

Friday, September 26, 2014


Bangwe Raft-Zither
9" x 12". various drawing materials on paper, 2014
That it's not all doom and gloom in the top 100 is proven by this humorous song sung by Pancras Mkwawa. It was recorded at Iringa in Tanganyika (Tanzania). Mkwawa belong to the appropriately named Hehe people that speak the Hehe language which is a Bantu language. Mkwawa is accompanied by his small son who taps a rhythm on the gourd that is the resonator for the zither that Mkwawa plays. The Hehe Song, recorded in 1950, is track #18 from Volume X of the by John Lomax compiled series The Columbia World Library of Folk and Primitive Music. The volume is called Bantu Music from British East Africa. The recordings on the record, as well as the liner notes and photographs, are by Hugh Tracey. The Bangwe raft-zither player in the illustration above is not Mkwawa but an anonymous individual from Nyasaland who plays on track #19. Pancras Mkwawa plays a Ligombo tube-zither on the Hehe Song. Of course I do not understand the lyrics but track #17, a Muganda dance song from Nyasaland, seems to contain much more humor to my ear than the Hehe Song does. Oh well.