In Triumph of Bacchus (1964), Bob Thompson borrowed compositional elements from Renaissance depictions of the Roman god of wine. He rejected descriptive clarity, however, substituting vividly-hued arrangement in which the figures’ identities are left open-ended. In reimagining these historical sources, Thompson painted in a manner akin to jazz musicians’ innovations, where improvisation was based on a thorough understanding of preexisting styles. Saxophonist Steve Lacy, a friend of Thompson’s, referred to the artist as “jazz himself,” explaining that “the way he painted was like jazz — taking liberties with colors.”
New York is an influential state and city, with millions of tourists flocking there year after year so that they can experience the Big Apple. This is because New York is known for and famous for a variety of things such as its iconic Statue of Liberty, exciting Broadway performances, and exclusive shops. The state and city have captivated people all over the globe, and it’s showing no signs of lessening its grip and influence on the rest of the world.
What about New York and the music scene, however? New York and music go hand-in-hand, with some of the biggest bands and musical performances coming from this high-rise city. In 2021, New York is still influencing the music scene.
The starting point for this lively patterned abstraction was an earlier canvas by Stuart Davis (1892 – 1964) entitled House and Street (1931). Treating each subsequent version as a riff on a jazz theme, Davis moved further and further away from his original composition to establish independent, rhythmic color patterns that retained only a few direct visual cues to the initial design. The Mellow Pad (1945 – 51) refers to the phrase “the mellow pad” — jazz lingo for the “cool” place to be. The pulsating colors and meandering forms seen here effectively mimic the dynamic rhythms of jazz. Davis developed his own style of Synthetic Cubism in which he dissolved figure and ground and referenced popular culture, adding a distinctly American sensibility to his abstractions
Norman Lewis (1909 – 1979), began his art career as a figurative painter, focusing on life in Harlem. In 1946, he announced that he wanted to create art that broke away from what he called “its stagnation in too much tradition.” Inspired by the writings and art of the Russian painter Vasily Kandinsky, one of the first artists to create abstract paintings, Lewis abandoned representation in favor of the “conceptual expression” of ideas. Like other Abstract Expressionists working in New York, Lewis was deeply interested in music, and especially jazz, which influenced the painting of Phantasy II (1946). In an automatic process, he made a linear composition with boldly colored lines and forms akin to the improvisational structure of jazz.
Don Cheadle is Miles Davis in Miles Ahead (All Images Courtesy of Sony Classics)
Movies about Trumpet Playing Jazz Legends are a thing right now. Just last week, IFC released Born to Be Blue, a surreal art film based loosely on the life and career of Chet Baker. This week, Miles Ahead — actor, and first-time director Don Cheadle’s much-anticipated love letter to another groundbreaking jazz innovator, Miles Davis — comes to the big screen after garnering all kinds of awards on last year’s festival circuit. It was worth the wait, because Miles Ahead is a fantastic film. Continue reading Don Cheadle Becomes Miles Davis in Miles Ahead→