Monday, April 14, 2014

T-Model Ford

Top 100 2010: T-Model Ford
8" x 10"
pencil on paper, 2009

signed by the musician
I was thinking last night about this little sketchbook drawing I did of T-Model Ford five years ago. It was drawn from a live performance in Ohio. After the concert I walked up to him to and asked him to sign the drawing. He did, and I realized then that he probably never learned how to write. Jolie Holland was on the stage too, she had him sign her guitar she would perform with later. James Lewis Carter Ford was born in Forest, Mississippi but he couldn't remember when exactly, it must have been around 1920. According to that date, he must have been 89 when I saw him perform. He was very cheerful, had smiles for everybody. His musical career didn't start until the 1970s and he didn't record until 1997. His life was hard. T-Model Ford died last year leaving behind eight records and (reportedly) twenty-six children.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Iran (2)

Miss Khatereh Parvaneh
oil on canvas board, 12" x 16", 2014
This here then is the painting representing the recording made by Ella Zonis Mahler of Khatereh Parvaneh in 1966 in Iran. Unlike last week's Battacharya's recording, this one is well documented. The words on Dastgah of Shour are "verses from the Masnavi, famous mystic poetry written in the thirteenth century by Jalal al-Din Rumi, founder of the Mevlevi order of Dervishes (the 'whirling' Dervishes)." (Ella Zonis, liner notes to Classical Music of Iran: Dastgah Systems, Vol. 1, Folkways Records.) The music on the Folkways record "is quite similar to that of medieval Persia and even to that of ancient Persia." (Zonis) The liner notes then explain the history of Persian music in the light of religious provisions of Islam. There are a number of websites and videos on line dedicated to Khatereh Parvaneh. She was born in an artistic family in 1930 and died in her home in Tehran in 2008. The painting of Miss Parvaneh comes at the tail end of teaching a series of painting courses. I set out painting Miss Parvaneh following my own attitudes and preachings communicated to students. While the intention of this painting was well planned out, the execution did not follow suit, and the result is a contradiction, at best, of my own teachings. The process of painting was one of frustration, anger, and anxiety. (I had to subvert my own rules to bring the 'pain' back in painting. I am free now.)

Saturday, March 22, 2014


Deben Bhattacharya
11" x 9.5", oil on wood, 2014
Last year I bought on separate occasions two records with traditional music from Iran. The first one, Classical Music of Iran, Vol. 1: Dastgah Systems (1966) on the Folkways label is the most interesting (partly because of the rich documentation inside the jacket) and older (by five years) than the second, Musique Folklorique du Monde: Iran (from the same series as the Syrian one—see previous). Both records are represented in the list of 100 songs. The folkways one was produced by Ella Zonis Mahler the other by Deben Bhattacharya. Zonis' is a recording of female singer Khatereh Parvaneh while the musicians on Bhattacharya's remain anonymous. Zonis Mahler is best known for the Persian recordings while Bhattacharya has a much more storied history. The first paragraph from the Wikipedia page (reproduced here) only hints at the colorful history of his career.
Deben Bhattacharya (1921–2001) was a Bengali radio producer, record producer, ethnomusicologist, anthropologist, documentary filmmaker, photographer, translator, poet, writer, broadcaster, lecturer, and folk music consultant. He produced over 100 records, 23 films and published more than a dozen books in his lifetime and much of his work was carried out under the auspices of UNESCO.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Music in Syria

Faiza Ahmed
14" x 11"
oil on canvas board, 2014
Iran and Syria are two countries whose fates are being negotiated by a tribunal of the most influential  of the world's powers. Both Iran and Syria have been featured too many times (for the wrong reasons) in the world news’ headlines this past year. I have acquired, and listened to music from the two countries and songs from both are represented in the list of 100 recordings this year. While still working on the Iranian painting(s) I'll forward the Syrian one here. The political situation in Syria forms—unconsciously or not—the backdrop when listening to a record that has the country's name as the title. This past year I bought a dozen records from the series Musique Folklorique du Monde. Both the Iranian one and the Syrian will feature in the top 100. The musicians, and the singers, are anonymous on both these records.

The following is an excerpt from an article in the New York Times titled A Writer's Lament for the Female Musicians of Aleppo. It was written by Nihad Serees and published on April 26, 2013.

I call my mother, now 86, and she reassures me that she is safe. I call my son, to ask about him and his wife. They were married eight months ago. I was not able to get back into the country to attend the wedding, but he told me he’d prepared for the celebration by stocking up on candles and batteries for the sound system. They had to crank the volume of the speakers all the way up to drown out the gunfire.  

My grandfather was a sheik who loved music, which in Aleppo was not unusual. Many of Syria’s most celebrated singers and lyricists were men of the cloth, like the master oud player Omar al-Batsh, and Sabri Moudallal, whose songs are sung to this day. 

But the love of music was not confined to men. My grandfather, like many fathers, pushed all his seven daughters to play an instrument or to sing, and the city was the birthplace of many celebrated songstresses. Its homes were known for their all-female musical evenings, where famous female singers and musicians performed for audiences that included influential women from all over the city.

There are nine female Syrain singers represented with a page in the English language version of Wikipedia:
  • Fayza Ahmed
  • Amal Arafa
  • Asmahan
  • Rouwaida Attieh
  • Shahd Bahmada
  • Dima Kandalaft
  • Assala Nasri
  • Dima Orsho
  • Noura Rahal
Asmahan is the most famous of this group but I am most familiar with Fayza Ahmed, who had a song in last year’s top 100. It is unlikely that it is her voice that is heard on Ya Hsien (the timbre of the anonymous singer on Ya Hsien is much like that of Ms. Ahmed but it Ahmed's voice is more plaintiff.) and it is certainly not any of the other eight singers either since they lived in a different era than the Blaise Calame recording of the late 1960s. Fayza Ahmed, furthermore, lived most her life in Egypt. 

The recordings on Musique Folklorique du Monde sound as if they were recorded on the street, capturing live performance as they happened. As if it was all recorded with devices brought along by tourists that came across the performances by accident. Different from the many recordings produced professionally by a score of highly regarded ethnomusicologists active around the same time. But this must surely be an illusion as the records were produced under the auspices of UNESCO and by well regarded professionals. The amateurish sound quality must have been a premeditated condition surrounding the recordings. In any case: I have nothing against amateurish sounding recordings (au contraire.)

Which brings me then to this slightly off topic issue I have been thinking about a lot lately; that of amateurism. Amateurism in music is different from amateurism in art. 
It seems that the whole discipline of painting is slowly becoming a craft; the love for the medium of painting.
Ordinarily, the amateur is defined as the immaturity of the artist: someone who cannot—or does not want to elevate him(her)self to the mastery of a profession. But in the field of photographic practice, it is the amateur, by contrast, who is the attainment (assumption) of the professional: because it is he (she) who sticks closest to the noème (being/intelligence) of photography.
The above quote in praise of the amateur photographer comes from Roland Barthes (1980). I believe the point is valid well beyond photography and can be applied broadly and certainly to other disciplines of art: Amateurs are hobbyists who have a love for what they're doing, and are, in a sense, purists—or traditionalists.

to be continued

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Good Ol' Dirty

O' Dirty Bastard
11" x 14"
oil on wood, 2014
No I haven't been listening to music much this past year but that's not to say I haven't been around music much. The neighborhood bordering our house to the north is largely hip-hop culture. Many have those hip-hop mobiles—revved up American made vehicles, the dodge is particularly popular, with amped up stereo systems—that ride the street in front of hour house with the stereo full blast. A friend continues to complain about it and asks me: "How can you stand that?". I can not only stand it, I'm loving it. The neighborhood to our south, at the other side of the creek, is largely populated by Mexicans, and the house directly behind our property organizes regular parties often with life music. Someone there plays the accordion. Needless to say: "I'm loving it". But none of this music comes with a play list and most hip-hop I hear consists of soundbites no longer than fifteen seconds. I'm hearing great fragments of which I do not know performer or title.

The hip-hop repertoire I play at home is limited to a few names or songs that I've grown to like over the years. I don't really know who's who in hip-hop. If I play selective hip-hop music at home it's either Shimmy Shimmy Ya or Brooklyn Zoo, both by Ol' Dirty Bastard, and both through YouTube. Both songs are part of my YouTube repertoire, which consists of about 25 music videos, all being played regularly. I there's a "YouTube-off" held, chances are I'll pick Brooklyn Zoo. The song stands at #6 at my combined top 100 of 2013 and 2014. The painting is clearly influenced by the stencil print I created a week ago. I painted like how you would make a print: I first painted the portrait in blue, and after it dried, I painted the portrait again but now in red. And besides a little tweaking...that was all.

Friday, February 14, 2014

The stencil

Cat Power
8" x 6"
stencil. 2014
The top 100 is compiled using a scoring system determined by regular lists of ten songs. The number one in each top 10 gets 10 points, number two gets 9 points, and so on. After a year that runs from mid-February to mid-February all points are added up. The top 100 year of 2013 has ended. Time has flown by. In my teaching obligations I've seen more than 250 students between August and now divided over 20 courses. Yes I've been busy, so busy that the top 100 of 2013 only yielded 50 top 10s, a little over half of a typical year. Only 65 songs scored 10 points or more, which is the cut off number for inclusion in the top 100. 30 of these 65 have received a complimentary painting. I have now decided to keep a running tab through December 31st in 2014 and compile the top 100 from this extended period: The Top 100 2013/2014. From then on the top 100 will run from January 1st through December 31st.

About half of the 20 classes have been painting courses and I have produced plenty of paintings in the form of demos during this time. All these demo paintings will now turn into top 100 portraits. The most intensive, and also most rewarding classes in the last half year have been lecture classes at Edison State College. The "Art Appreciation" course compiles everything about art into one semester. From hands on art experiments to the full scope of art history, the students truly received a crash course in art. The most fun assignment has been the stencil in which the students make an edition of ten prints. They trade these with other students and one comes to me. As a trade they receive one of mine. (I did the work too. I made an edition of 75, one for each of the 67 students and then some for myself.) The source image for my stencil of Cat Power came from Paste magazine. The song it illustrates in the top 100 is Metal Heart which featured on both on Moon Pix and Jukebox.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Roland Kirk (Shaman?)

Rahsaan Roland Kirk
14" x 11", oil on wood, 2014

A wisdom encircled Rahsaan that had folks believing he had something greater to say, something supreme to impart each time he spoke. Part southern preacher, part stand-up comic, part ancient-prophet—Rahsaan’s voice boomed with authority with his words always aimed at delivering the most hard-hitting truths.
May Cobb, Songs of Our Life: Rahsaan Roland Kirk’s “The Inflated Tear,” The Rumpus, 2013.

For the last two or three years I have been following the blog The Man Who Cried Fire, dedicated to the life and music of Rahsaan Roland Kirk, and written and collected by Mary K. Cobb.  Kirk has been a mainstay in the Top 100s since 1999, and the more you hear and see of him, the more his place as one of the great artists’ of twentieth century music is cemented in the annals of the history of the world. I have considered Kirk a shaman, one who could traverse the mythical realms of the spirit world. As an artist and art historian I have been convinced that the true function of art is that what it was in the beginning: the intermediary of the gods. “One who is a specialist in ancient techniques of ecstacy.”
“The shaman normally is a functionary for a nonliterate community, serving as its healer, intermediary with the gods, guide of the souls of the dead to their rest, and custodian of traditional tribal lore. The typical shaman comes to this role through either heredity or having manifested idiosyncratic traits (epilepsy, sexual ambiguity, poetic sensitivity, dramatic dreams). Psychologically, shamans depend on an ability to function in two worlds, the ordinary reality of daily life and the extraordinary reality they encounter through their ecstatic journeys. As well, they serve their tribe as a defense of meaning, by incarnating a contact with the powers thought to hold the tribe's destiny.” (Carmody & Carmody 1989:33)

Andreas Lommel, in his work on shamanism (Shamanism: The Beginnings of Art), draws a distinction between a medicine person and a shaman, noting that the future shaman acts under an inner compulsion “...a psychosis that is emerging for some reason or other is so strong that the only way out open to the individual attacked by it is to escape from it into shamanistic activity, that is to say essentially by means of artistic productivity, such as dancing or singing, which always involves a state of trance.” (1967:9-10)

In Siberian Tungustic the word is "saman," meaning "one who is excited, moved, raised," and refers to individuals who, while in a trance state, visit the realm of mystical beings to communicate with them and in the process gain mystical power.
1941 saw the discovery of Paleolithic paintings in caves at Lascaux. At the time they were considered the oldest known paintings and, according to the French philosopher Georges Bataille, it represented the “birth of art.” Bataille was one of the first to see these paintings and he immediately saw in them something so profound that the whole of art history should be rewritten. 1941, of course, was during the second World War, and the dominating force of the avant-garde (what was left of it) then were the surrealists, with whom Bataille himself was briefly associated.

(Has the subject of this 17,000 year old painting been photographed in Siberia?)

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Burundi: Musiques Traditionelles

Inanga player
12" x 12"
oil on wood, 2014
The Whispering Song with "inanga" accompaniment recorded in Burundi in 1967 is one of those "classic" recordings that would make anyone's top 100 list of traditional African recordings, even any top 100 list of traditional world music recordings. It could even make anyone's list (as it did mine) of musical recordings in general. The record Burundi: Musique Traditionelles contains actually several of such classic recordings; I already mused about the Rundi Wake that's on that record that also contains a recording of drummers from Bukirasazi which was sampled by Burundi Steiphenson Black on his international 1971 hit Burundi Black. The recordings were made by Michael Vuylsteke in 1967, Wikipedia also credits Charles Duvelle as being responsible for the recording. The record now contains five tracks (from the 12) that will be included in the Top 100 2013 (That is still running for another month). The image for the painting is taken from the front cover of the record. As the size is precisely that of the record and, after it dries, it will be slipped in to the plastic protective cover to take the place of the original cover. (As it is customary with these paintings I would not throw the images of the paintings on line if they weren't at least as good as the photograph that was the source for it. You can buy the painting from me—if you would like to—but it will not come with the record that's married to it. That record is priceless!)

Friday, January 10, 2014

Rosa Balistreri – A Curuna

Rosa Balistreri
24" x 16"
oil on wood, 2014
Asira lu me beddu vinni 'i fora
supra un cavaddu d'ora ca vulava
sutta li me finestri e il barcuna
cu un fazzutettu 'nmanu e lacrimava
S'affeccianu lu re cu la regina
"A 'sta picciotta l'hamu e 'ncurunari".
"Su picciridda e non cangiu parola
a iddu vogghiu e non vogghiu curuna".

Such are the lyrics to the song A Curuna by Rosa Balistreri. Google translate didn't help much; there's a king, there's a queen, and there's weeping, but other than that...? I suspect that the lyrics aren't proper Italian. Balistreri is from Sicily and she doesn't appear to be one who would sing in proper Italian. The song, first on side B from the record Amore, tu lo sai, la vita e'amara sounds quite dramatic, like most of the songs do on the record. She wears the same dress on the painting as she did in last year's painting. I suspect the source material came from the same photographer. Here's the link to that picture. And here's the link to what I wrote when I bought the album at a local thrift store.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013


12" x 9"
oil on canvas board, 2013
Nagat El Sagheera (pictured above) is an Egyptian singer I found through my friends at Bodega Pop, the one source to instruct me on the music from the Arabic world, old and new. Nagat is in between, neither old nor new, but a singer unlike I’ve ever heard in older or newer music. In stead of dwelling on this terrific recording of Ana Bashak El Bahr from the album Eyoun el Calb, I’ll talk about some of the techniques I used in painting these portraits. I direct you to Bodega Pop for more on Nagat (and you can listen to her music in the process).

After a series of double portraits I’m back to painting a single performer. Whenever a sort of series within the series happens (and this usually happens accidentally), there’s this urge to continue the trend. In 2006 I made the same attempt to paint all double portraits but then too, I gave up after the idea just didn’t make any sense anymore within the concept of the one hundred paintings. There’s a lot to be said for double portraits, both formally and conceptually, a whole range of ideas waiting to be explored, but I opt now to depart this exploration and leave it for the long term. Another thing the last series of paintings have in common is that the musicians are superimposed on landscape paintings that were made as demos for landscape painting classes I teach. And this, my friends, should continue, as at least three more of such 5 week classes are scheduled over the next few months. In contrast to last year’s, when the paintings were all done plein-air in my backyard. The new paintings are random Florida landscapes, and not as precious as the backyard ones. They are less planned out compared to last year’s. I randomly use these backgrounds as if they were blank canvases. You probably noticed that the landscape in the painting above was turned sideways. This also is the result of the randomness I treat the backgrounds with. For Nagat’s I simply chose to flip the landscape format of the demo into a portrait format. The choice is of course a formal one, but what does it mean conceptually? What does it do, for example, to my mantra “as it is above, so it is below?” Two halves of the composition exist side by side, rather than on top of one another. Except maybe in non-representational painting, or in diptychs, you don’t see this orientation much in two dimensional art. Sure the old Egyptians would paint trees sideways but they didn’t use the concept of the horizon. A concept abandoned again in the shift to non-representational painting that happened in the 20th century. In a parallel universe there’s no orientation. (Let’s leave it at that.)

And, by the way,….HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

A Rundi Wake

Rundi women performing "Ubuhuha"
12" x 16". oil on wood, 2013
So my friend from the Netherlands came to visit for the holidays. He brought with him, as a gift, from his own collection, a fantastic set of records. My favorite so far from the set is a volume of traditional music from Burundi recorded in 1967. I've played the whole record several times already and it contains, perhaps the biggest bonus of all, an example of a lamentation that were traditionally performed during a wake. Once upon a time the lamenting of the dead was an almost universal practice but has since disappeared. About a year ago I compiled all examples I collected of recordings of such practices on a CD that I called Keening Songs and Death Wails. I am thrilled that I can add yet another one. Ubuhuha as these lamentations are called in Burundi is maybe my favorite of them all. (From the liner notes by Michel Vuylsteke:) "The women use their lips like reeds to set in motion the volume of air contained in the cavity formed by cupping both hands against their mouths. The resultant sounds vary in pitch, timbre and volume according to the postion of their hands and the  tension of their lips."

Saturday, December 14, 2013


Jerry Casale and Mark Mothersbaugh of Devo
11' x 14", oil on canvas board, 2013
In 1984 the song Wiggly World by Devo made an appearance in the top 100 for that year. It came from the only LP that I owned of them back then, it was their second, the 1979 release Duty Now for the Future. Even though I acquired two more records in the following 29 years, Devo did not return to the list until this year when I met and befriended Jade Dellinger, (co)author of the book We Are DEVO! I read it and became hooked (again) to their story, their videos, and the music. The book is a "culturally essential" read, and I strongly recommend it to anyone interested in that era of (rock) history (the punk and new wave era that is). What I would recommend too is to watch (on YouTube) their video for Jocko Homo, a sort of Devo anthem. The video from 1976 is part of the short film (an art film) The Truth About De-Evolution. Jocko Homo was rerecorded in 1978 to feature on Devo's first album Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!
I'm particularly interested in the concept of de-evolution (hence the name Devo), in which human kind, in stead of evolving is regressing backwards. It fits right in with the topic of paleolithic cave paintings that has kept my brain occupied for a while now. I have this vague notion that a concept (be it art, be it evolution) is at its strongest at the moment it appears. It is then when the circumstances are ideal for something to exist. Or as Devo would have it "the beginning is the end".