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  • Writer's pictureHaydn Dickenson


Another of my readers has kindly taken up the baton that I presented in my twenty-first post, ANY REQUESTS? and asked me a question. Today's topic is “Does music influence my work?”

The short answer is yes! Let's talk about how.

Paintings can display musicianly qualities just as playing music can feel as if one is painting with sound. Debussy's ethereal soundscapes find echoes in the impressionism of Monet and, for me, some of Richard Diebenkorn's airy abstracts put me in mind of the gently emotional, meditative qualities of Philip Glass's minimalism.

As most of you know, I am a musician as well as a painter, though I have not performed in public for fifteen years. You probably also know that I do not consider the two artistic paths that I have pursued to be entirely unconnected. In Art (using the wider sense of the word) energy flows between the various disciplines which are all simply different ways of expressing the same humanity and spirituality.

The lilting prose of James Joyce embodies powerful musical qualities, and I have always felt that Stanley Kubrick used image, metaphor, reference, colour and much more in his incredible films, like a visual conductor; not forgetting, of course, his deeply considered use of music per se.

I would like to refer back to the years 2005-8 when, after having painted sporadically throughout my life, I was beginning to take the creation of visual art very seriously indeed, making sensual figure studies, a very small number of sculptures and of course, abstract paintings.

I was energetically encouraged at the time by two friends in the artistic world, one of whom was herself an exceptional artist (I say 'was' because, sadly, we are no longer in contact) and also a good pianist. This person was a major catalyst in propelling me towards abstract art and I remain forever grateful to her for this. Indeed, we even encountered each other through music, making contact when I was promoting a recording of my piano playing that recently been released. Thus, music had a large part to play even in the launching of my creative passion in the direction of abstract art.

During those years, I had been practising the second of Chopin's four Ballades for piano, in between feverishly turning out small abstract paintings on pieces of board. All this was so new – it felt as if a huge gate had been opened into a park full of hitherto unexplored pleasures. I embarked on a short series of paintings entitled HISTOIRES D'UNE BALLADE, partly in homage to the Chopin Ballade, partly in an oblique and (except to me) hidden reference to the alternative spelling of the French noun 'balade', meaning 'a walk', and the verb 'se balader', to take a walk – for I felt that I was indeed taking a walk in the exotic air of this magnificent park, discovering creativity afresh.

HISTOIRE D'UNE BALLADE 5 - Haydn Dickenson (2008)

HISTOIRE D'UNE BALLADE 6 - Haydn Dickenson (2008)

Now, fifteen years on, I feel the influence of music on my visual work no less strongly. I go through phases during which I will incorporate collage sections of old music scores into my paintings – so much the better if these scraps of paper bear pencilled annotations from some pianist a hundred years ago! Antique music paper is also a very beautiful surface on which to paint and I enjoy being able partly to hide, partly to expose the fragments of score as components of the finished picture as in the painting below.

THE LIES THAT CLOCKS TELL - Haydn Dickenson (2020)

Other musical references are rarely direct or overt; instead they appear as emotional-gestural parallels, the flow of a line, the juxtaposition of tone or colour, the composition of the painting on the canvas, the type of marks being employed which may call to mind vastly diverse genres of music from medieval monody through to Beethoven, Schumann, Coltrane, Monk and beyond.


Copyright Haydn Dickenson 2023


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