Genre music provides inspiration for artists
In a corner of the museum, a painting hangs surrounded only by the sounds of soft chatter and footsteps. Yet the piece seems to speak volumes with its unique mixture of colors and inspiration from one of the biggest music genres in history: the blues.
The Geffen Contemporary at the Museum of Contemporary Artâs current show âBlues for Smokeâ looks at this intersection â particularly at the way different artistsâ aesthetics communicated their love for a single music genre. Everything from installations to paintings to even a work displayed on an iPad explore the impact of the blues, its biggest figures and its lasting influence.
Out of the many pieces paying homage to one facet of blues or another, Beauford Delaneyâs âUntitledâ (1957) proves especially captivating. Though the artist also painted straightforward portraits of major blues artists such as Charlie Parker, âUntitledâ takes on a more abstract interpretation of the blues. Featuring a complex, entangled composition, Delaneyâs piece suggests that a complicated work can reveal much about the artist and his artistic process .
âUntitledâ features a conglomeration of colors, bright blue popping out from a mostly red and yellow background. The erratic arrangement of colors calls to mind the drip technique of Jackson Pollock, but the yellow paint gives the piece a softer, more welcoming aura. Delaney worked in the abstract expressionist mode in Paris back in the 1950s, so the work very much reflects the aesthetic thought of his other works in the show â even though he didnât limit his work to that aesthetic. No inch of the canvas escapes the paint and the colors sometimes swirl into circles that break up the chaotic nature of the rest of the piece Delaneyâs uniquely expressive style.
âBlues for Smokeâ presents the idea of artists taking on the blues but that, in turn, opens the door for other intimate insights into these artistsâ lives. Many of them create works that share tidbits like family history and though Delaneyâs âUntitledâ is less obvious, it too could tell viewers about the artist. Delaneyâs younger brother Joseph shares in the book âBeauford Delaney: A Retrospectiveâ that Beauford greatly enjoyed singing and playing the ukulele. In comparison to his younger brother, Beauford was more lively and outspoken.
âUntitled,â then, feels like the musical musings of Delaney paired with the emotional resonance of the blues. Just when it seems like a certain pattern will arise, another color pops up to change the mood. At first glance, a viewerâs tendency might be to form a shape out of the bright blue, but the piece ultimately works as a whole; each color blends into another to create a frenzy of movement that pulls the viewerâs eye in. Trying to find just one shape or form in the work would mean not appreciating it completely.
Perhaps blues music did the same for Delaney. Itâs possible he switched on a song while he worked and let the paint guide his reactions to the notes floating around him. If thatâs true, they Delaneyâs piece fits right into the rest of âBlues of Smoke,â which features video clips of musicians performing complex pieces of music. âUntitledâ is not an easy canvas to behold because your eyes donât quite know where to go, but this complexity is in line with the instrumental gymnastics of the musicians.
Seeing the work in comparison to Delaneyâs portraits makes it all the more impressive; in looking at the blues, the artist can construct a typical image of a particular figure, but he can also express the more entangled emotions the music engenders in him. âUntitledâ proves a more personal piece as it reflects Delaneyâs inner workings rather than outside images as the portraits do.
Abstract expressionist works of art are especially hard to decipher because they donât offer viewers a concrete image to hold onto. Yet Delaneyâs layering of colors makes the piece more accessible if the viewer lets go of the need to over analyze the work. Yes, the layers of color create a very complicated, packed image, but ultimately the viewerâs natural reaction proves more important. Whatever reaction âUntitledâ engenders â delight, confusion, curiosity â ultimately reflects Delaneyâs own process of creating. This emotional impact lasts longer than the viewer registering a simple image; in viewing the canvas, they can take away a piece of the artist and engage with the work on a deeper level.
Delaneyâs incorporation of blues music with the dynamic quality of the painting ultimately makes his work a different piece to each person that approaches it. Someone might see a shape the next person doesnât or spot a pattern another person cannot decipher. The hybrid complexity of music and color has lived on through the passage of decades and the birth of many other genres â ones that will hopefully give rise to equally intriguing pieces.
âBlues for Smokeâ runs until January 7 at the Geffen Contemporary at MOCA, located on 152 North Central Ave.