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  • Writer's pictureHaydn Dickenson


Updated: Nov 26, 2022

As some of you may know, before fully embracing my lifelong passion for the visual arts and making it my career, I was active as a classical concert pianist. I was brought up in an atmosphere steeped in Music, Art and Literature and have been fortunate enough to study with some superb musicians, most notably one of the world's leading piano pedagogues, the late Prof. Peter Feuchtwanger.

Though I have not performed in public for over twelve years, and never cross over between the two art-forms in my professional activity, music occupies as important a place in my artistic core as does painting. Indeed I see little difference between the two in terms of essence. Only the means by which it is communicated differs.

GOODNIGHT LADIES. Haydn Dickenson 2018 (Private Collection).

My friend and colleague, the artist, photographer and film-maker Manon Vuillermet was instrumental in encouraging me, at a time of crisis, to paint, paint, paint – and to exhibit.

Fifteen years ago Manon wrote:

Some say that Haydn's painting is an extension of his musicality. I believe however that Haydn's Music and his Art must be separately considered. There are many diverse facets of sensibility to this man. A classical piano score requires adherence to precise rules. This is not the case in the Art of Haydn Dickenson, whose creativity vibrates with an unbridled and intuitive passion.”

Far be it from me to contradict my dear friend, and the point that she makes is valid! Classical Music can seem rigid, unyielding even, while Abstract Art might appear to flout all rules.

Rigidity in classical music is something of a misconception. Admittedly, a degree of objectivity exists in modern-day performances, leading to an uninspired conformity in some cases and, at worst, even a predictability.

Scholars in Baroque Music have shown us that a significant degree of latitude was expected in performance during that era, particularly in matters of ornamentation. This fact joyously flies in the face of any notions of strictness or stuffiness. My pianistic idols are mostly from the first half of the twentieth century, when piano playing was unbridled, passionate, risky, individual and thrilling. Pianists – other instrumentalists and conductors too – were not afraid to demonstrate and revel in their often enormous artistic personalities, often departing from the 'letter ' of the score and imparting their own personal stamp on an interpretation. Recordings of the core classical repertoire made at this time display miraculous power, spontaneity and individuality. It is this highly expressive and romantic style of playing which informed my own.

For me, the production of piano sound, whether lyrical and mellifluous or sharp and jarring, is very closely related to mark-making in painting, with all its boundless possibilities.

QUIETUDE. Haydn Dickenson 2020 (Private Collection).

FACE UP TO THE FACTS. Haydn Dickenson 2019 (Private Collection).

A former piano student of mine, now training in journalism, recently conducted an interview with me. Her questions were pertinent and thought-provoking. I hope that the following extracts are interesting to my readers:

Q: How do you think that your career as a concert pianist has endowed you with the skills to show confidence and passion in your art and to be courageous in showcasing it to a wide audience? Would you consider these interests to be intertwining art forms and would you say that the overlap between them influences your work?

HD: I am not sure whether my career as a pianist has endowed me with these skills as such. The mindset needed for playing a long and complex programme of virtuosic piano music from memory is quite different from that needed to offer for curation a selection of one's paintings. The one is neither lesser nor greater than the other, but the latter can potentially survive to a degree on introversion while the former might seem to thrive on extroversion. Playing the piano in concert, though a seemingly extrovert act, allowed me to channel energy through myself into the pure communication of supreme music, a very private and intimate act. Perhaps the need for such intimacy is why the great pianist Sviatoslav Richter, in the last several years of his career, performed recitals with only a tiny desk lamp trained on the piano in an otherwise darkened auditorium. The visual arts seem similar to me, being the transmission of private energy to become public through me as the tool. The final part of your question addresses precisely this point. Yes, the overlap between the visual and the aural is both substantial and tangible. To me, all artistic outpourings emanate from the same well-spring of creativity. People have often remarked upon the musicality of my mark-making on canvas, as they have of the painterly quality of my manipulation of sound at the piano. I consider both of these statements to be enormous compliments.

Q: When I visited Paris recently, I went to an exhibition by Shirley Jaffe at the Centre Pompidou. I was struck by some of her early work, whose strong and determined brush marks and use of mixed media reminded me of some of your paintings. I was wondering if you had ever sought inspiration from other artists or if your work had evolved naturally and if you had expected some of the trajectories that it has taken? I wonder if perhaps you would resonate with the ‘spontaneity’, ‘gestural’ style and ‘mixture of turmoil and order’ within her work? Perhaps you could explain whether your style could be encapsulated in a few words and whether this is something you try to stick to throughout your work?

A: I do not deliberately seek inspiration from others, indeed I consider the word 'inspiration' to be overused, and sometimes misused. In this sense, I never seek to emulate, though I do crave to imbibe the energy of other artists; so I visit galleries, staring in awe and humility at the composition, the mark-making, the tones and even, strangely perhaps, at the framing. I've always been obsessed by how great art is framed, by how these titanic works are presented to us within surrounds of such nobility that, to look at the frame alone, draws forth something of the genius that is held within them. Very often, after visiting a gallery, I experience a burning urge to paint. Currently - after a period of artistic depression - I am in a state of heightened creative energy, I am pleased to say. As for expectation, I expect nothing. I simply focus my mind and my soul on what I believe to be true to my artistic core. As for spontaneity and gesture - you could not be more correct! From the great Abstract Expressionists whom I revere, I have taken on the mindset of gesture and action, where the wildness of a mark takes the artist where it will. Turmoil and Order? I have spoken of this many times in the past and these words could not embody more succinctly my artistic philosophy - the Yin and Yang of Hysteria and Repose. Can my style be encapsulated in a few words? By me, perhaps - I have tried just now! By others, I do not know!

SARABANDE. Haydn Dickenson 2020 (Private Collection).

Copyright Haydn Dickenson 2022.

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