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Diamond in the Rough

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“Tuning Low Strings” , 60w x 20h, 2018

Portland Columbia Symphony Orchestra performs in the First United Methodist Church in downtown Portland, Oregon. The chapel is high-vaulted in hardwood beams and trim. Along the entire South wall is a full floor to ceiling bank of stained glass panels in red, blue, and rose that reflect the interior glow back onto the instruments on the stage. The effect is a warm and comforting mellowness. I painted “Portland Columbia Symphony Low Strings” at about the same time that I painted “Tuning Low Strings”, the subject of this post. Both paintings focus on the same group of musicians: those who work directly in front of where I routinely sit while admiring my sweetheart through their bows, instruments, and elbows.

One of my favorite parts of the symphony is the activity that takes place before the conductor takes his podium for the concert. There is usually a pre-concert lecture which is essential for providing context for the works that will be performed, followed by the wonderful activity and cacauphony of all of the instruments being tuned. The context of the lecture expands the imagination and my feeling of connection to the composer’s intent, and the tuning builds pregnant suspense in an insect-like swarm of sound. I was sitting there, after Maestro Byess offered some background to John William’s prolific career as blockbuster movie score composer, and I saw a very special glow of soft femininity in the midst of all these men in their sharp tuxes, like a diamond enclosed in carbon and rock. There, surrounded on every side by symphony men, I glimpsed Bethany standing at her harp, her right arm bent upward behind it, tightening tuners with a key, her left hand stretched and plucking at long strings made of gut, copper, and steel. Her left leg is straight while her right dances and kicks expertly at one of seven pedals going from flats to sharps. Tonight her shifting shoulders are mostly bare above the scoop of her black gown. All around were men clothed high up the neck in stiff collars, but within them, and through a window of instrument necks and sculpted cellos, was the soft femininity of a radiant woman poised in elegant work.

I am old-fashioned in my love of contrast, and even here in the unifying nature of the symphony as a single organism, rightly inclusive of all, I love the symphony for the beauty of women and soft curves against hard angular lines and handsome manliness, and glows amid pure blackness. I saw that night a repeating theme of timeless beauty, and although at the symphony, in a church, I ached as a man for this woman’s natural allure in the simplest way.

 

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Harp-centric

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Symphony Harpist, 2016 70w x 36h Spray paint on board
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Salem Symphony, 2017, 60w x 20 Oil on canvas

I went to the symphony a few times in high school and I really loved it. And then I never went again until I started dating a symphony harpist twenty-five years later. I lived in Walla Walla and Bethany lived in Salem, Oregon. Whenever she had a Friday night concert at Portland’s First United Methodist Church, with Portland Columbia Symphony Orchestra, I would have arranged to leave work at Walla Walla Foundry midday on Friday. I would drive 3 1/2 hours west through the beautiful Columbia River Gorge so that I could get to the church in time to change out of my jeans, T-shirt, and steel-toe boots and into dress slacks, a white button-up shirt, black dress shoes and a blazer. Every time I sat near the front row and slightly to the right, directly in view of the harpist. She was often nestled behind the cellos and bassists or sometimes she was situated in the front. My first symphony painting was in my choice of medium at the time: rattle-can off-the-shelf spray paint. I don’t think I had even noticed yet that the harp has seven pedals, but I had painted Bethany at her harp almost immediately after my first experience seeing her there.

My first symphony oil painting was “Salem Symphony”, where she was out front on a slightly lower platform than the rest of the symphony. My second full symphony painting was “Portland Columbia Symphony Low Strings” that places her so prominently, and accurately to my vantage and affection, that the rest of the symphony seems to fade into the distance. But I love this symphony and I am making friends there.

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Portland Columbia Symphony Low Strings, 2018, 60w x 20h

And so, based on the core of musicians directly in front of me, is the following cropping:

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Concert Low Strings, 30w x 20h

I look forward to painting Portland Columbia Symphony Orchestra again, but next time I intend to show just a little less harp-centric bias.