One Friday night in January, 2018, I was giving a short speech in a downtown Portland hotel, to about sixty people with whom I had a deep and visceral connection, though I knew few of their names. My wife of one year, Bethany Evans, had a rehearsal at the hotel’s ballroom where the following night, Portland Columbia Symphony Orchestra would be playing for community members who would be helping to fund some of the symphony’s 40 community outreach programs. As part of the fundraiser, I would be showing my oil paintings I had made based on this very symphony and its players. Since then I have been traveling through human connections like electricity on copper, and sharing my art in a completely unprecedented way.
When I set out to paint the symphony my first intention was simply to represent dynamic and kinetic beauty. I loved the glistening instruments. I loved the action, the expression, human excellence, poise, professionalism, strain, and triumph. And most of all: unity, community, and oneness. Individuality and the aggregate. For me there was definitely a sacredness flowing through the mathematics and the passion colliding in the music. I fell in love with the musical mastery wrought by discipline.
I started my first oil painting in my life, one called, Salem Symphony, a mere five months earlier, using a dozen small tubes of oil paint from a Zip-lock bag my mother had gifted to me, but it had taken me all of my creative life to envision how oil paint could translate this subject. Salem Symphony and Portland Columbia Symphony had many of their musicians in common and this would be the first time any of them would see my work.
In my many years of building and creating art in many mediums, I saw that contemporary art often lacked in execution the discipline these musicians exemplify. An orchestra could never function if musicians were held to the same standard as many contemporary visual artists, who are often held to no standard except a political one. I chose oil on canvas as my medium to convey if I could, the higher human experience of classical musicians working in masterful collaborarion.
For many years I felt like Sisyphus pushing a boulder up a hill only to have to start at the bottom of the hill every new day he woke to. I started drinking more. I painted and sculpted a man, myself, and named him “Precarius,” and he was always pushing a giant wheel or gear, alone. Even though I was barely 40 I felt like I was wearing out until I underwent a complete, though harrowing, reconstruction. It is in contrast to escapist nihilism and so much waste-based contemporary art that the symphony works stand. The symphony rings out in every fiber of the vibrating air that we are built for cooperation and can aspire to higher ideas.
On that Friday night, I had parked a luggage cart laden with a few of my works in the hallway outside of the ballroom while I went to drive the van to the parking tower. The rehearsal would be commencing in another fifteen minutes or so. Bethany had already carted her harp to the stage where she was tuning its strings. When I returned from parking the van I saw that the paintings had been taken from the cart and set on easels to face the gathered symphony musicians on the stage risers. I was beckoned over by the conductor, Maestro Steven Byess. One of the paintings was of him: a charismatic and handsome white-haired gentleman. After a brief introduction I climbed the several steps to his podium. Cello necks rested on the neck of their player and drumsticks were at rest while violins lay in the laps of the violinists. I felt that they loved what I had done and they were grateful for it. I expressed to them that for me, the symphony was as visual as it is aural. I love their individuality and their characteristics, their relationship to their instruments and their action as a unified organism, and that when I see them I see a kind of radiant light. Well, that’s what I would have said had I found the words to tell them why I paint them, and why I am going to I keep painting musicians, thousands of them, if I am allowed to.
I love this work more than I have loved any work I have ever done. I am part of a community that has grown and grown. I never paint the symphony without a prayerful heart overflowing with gratitude for the opportunity; that after all this time, all these broken but healing spiritual bones, that it is finally underway.
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