"Painting music" is about revealing the invisible

"As a painter and a lover of music, I have a unique ability to perceive music in the form of colors. I discovered this ability while painting landscapes. Today, I want to share with you my journey and how I developed my unique style.

We are standing in front of the La Meije massif. Have you ever experienced musical emotions while admiring the beauty of the world around you? For me, music is not just an escape, but it also reveals my emotions. When music reveals my emotions, I am in tune with the world that surrounds us. Have you ever experienced a musical emotion while gazing at a landscape, painting, or work of art? When you're on a train, watching the landscape moving by, isn't there a notion of music present? George Gershwin wrote Rhapsody in Blue on a train between New York and Boston, influenced and inspired by the sound rhythm and the swaying of the train.

For me, I feel the music of the landscape while painting it. I often paint in valleys or in front of mountains, with all my equipment. I paint and compose, looking for the light and colors, and I listen. After 1 to 1.5 hours, I finally perceive the music. This means that the emotion of the landscape is music.

I would like to present my first example of my work, which was a long time ago on the banks of the Seine in the north of the Yvelines. I was walking in the morning, it had snowed, it was winter and the sun was rising.  Video The ”Matinales

These 4 paintings have the same emotion, sliding from the figurative landscape to abstraction. Isn't music also an abstraction? After this, I started to develop a language for painting music.

I worked hard to create these colored scores. I studied and experimented a lot, with many failures along the way. Then, more than ten years ago, I had a big project. When I revisited Monet's Water Lilies for the umpteenth time at the Musée de l'Orangerie in Paris, I said to myself: "of course, Monet painted scores there." I had the exceptional authorization to come and paint in front of Monet's Water Lilies for 18 months. I scrutinized the pictorial layer and all the colors used by Monet. I realized that he takes his brush and every 10 centimeters, he would give a blue, green, pink, yellow brush stroke, creating a rhythm. Between the two trees, something happens, a reflection! I was able to work on the colored scores of the Water Lilies and made over 20 linear meters of canvas.

I now present three options to you: I can present them to you now in music, with the music of Bach, Schubert, or Shostakovich. This video features my Water Lilies.

Today, what interests me is:

  • Placing the public between the music and the painting, as was done when my Water Lilies were exhibited at the Cantor Art Gallery in the United States.
  • Observing that music is a material we can build. You may have noticed that chromatic circles are waves of propagation on sound backgrounds.

Recognizing that music has moved from emotion to abstraction. It is a language.

I had to work on this music outside of any connection with the landscape. As the composer writes it on the staff, I will write it on the canvas.

Are you familiar with Maurice Ravel's "La Valse"? It was commissioned by Diaghilev in 1906, but Ravel didn't complete it until after World War I. The destruction of the world is integrated into it. I invite you to listen to it at home; it lasts 14 minutes. It's important to listen all the way through.

I discovered "La Valse" during rehearsals with the Radio France Philharmonic Orchestra at Salle Pleyel. I was allowed to enter the empty hall with my watercolor. Instead of being with two or three musicians, I found myself in front of an entire orchestra, with its vibrations and sounds exploding from the ensemble. I was impressed. I asked myself: how do I start? I began by working on the color of each instrument. I've spent a lot of time on the colorful world of musicians. I think they are each in different colorful propagation waves.

So I was able to work on a range, a palette of colors. On the left are the violins (in green), the harp in mauve, and as you move into the low register, the cello and bass become bluer and browner. The percussion is above. There was the color of the sounds, but there is also the structure of the music. The conductor leads the music, explains it, puts words to how the music can be built. There are rhythms and very low sounds that take great amplitude with enormous propagation waves. All of this music enters into vibration within us. I translate it into painting. After several studies and hours spent in Salle Pleyel, I painted this colored score of "La Valse" by Maurice Ravel. It is a musical phrase played eight times by the orchestra, becoming more and more dramatic until the agony of the world. It is truly a piece of music to be heard.

Wouldn't it be incredible to see these representations of music, these great paintings above the orchestras? I believe it would be an incredible sharing of emotions. Music can be seen. Delacroix wrote in 1956: "One day we will perform symphonies while presenting beautiful paintings to increase the impression." That day has arrived. I give you this gift today.

You have planned to see Beethoven's 7th Symphony. You go to the concert hall and wait. The musicians arrive, tune their instruments, and the conductor enters. This video features the female conductor.

I have done a lot of research on the organization of concerts and conferences, as well as writings. I have come to realize that music has been abstract in painting for at least a century! There are painters who are synesthetes, or "musicalists," as we could call them. These include Kandinsky, Paul Klee, and Kupka (my 3K). I will briefly introduce you to their work, although we don't have much time. Time is precious.

Wassily Kandinsky created a series of landscapes in 1909 where the power of color was already notable. He later worked on music and created a representation of a concert. In this piano concert, you can see that the music is yellow and invades the whole space. Kandinsky said, "The tones of colors, like those of music, are of a much finer nature, causing in the soul much more subtle vibrations, indescribable by words." Words are not easy indeed.

At the Bauhaus, Kandinsky taught the link between color and form, a theory that he wrote about in a very small book that you must read if you're interested. As a synesthete, he sees color in music. He says, "Musically, the light blue is similar to the flute, the dark to the cello, and if it still darkens, to the sumptuous sonority of the double bass; in its deepest, most majestic tones, the blue is comparable to the low sounds of the organ. Yellow becomes easily acute and cannot become very deep." He wrote this in 1925.

Paul Klee was a violinist and painter who worked extensively on landscapes, creating a landscape that straddles the line between figuration and attraction. In the foreground, you can see almost notes in front of the blue mountain. He worked on the emotions he felt from the air and the light and transformed them into color. He said that he would be the color and also "Art does not reproduce the visible, it makes visible."

At the Bauhaus, Klee taught and created new musical writing that integrated temporality. Here a painting called "Polyphony." I perceived spaces entering into vibration with each other, creating the colored spaces of the music. I don't have time to tell you about Kupka, but I invite you to look him up on the Internet. He is a great artist.

Today, making music visible is possible, which is an absolutely incredible potential for creation and sharing. We live in a society where everything is in the image. We have images of everything, on everything, perhaps too much. But we have no image of music. How can we make it visible? I hope that the younger generation will find some answers.

Have you ever wondered about the colors and landscapes that music inspires in you? There was a musicalist movement in the 1930s that explored this idea. These proposals were all different, and they would be really interesting to "see."

For my part, I integrate the vibrations of landscapes and music and transpose them. I try to structure this music. Music is not only color or form. There is the temporality, the space-time of the music, and the rhythm, among many other factors to consider.

Would you take the time to live your emotions and vibrations that the world, a landscape, or even an encounter gives you? What would you do with them? It would be wonderful to express them in color.

In conclusion, I invite you tonight to Paris. We are in the car, driving to the Place de la Concorde. Thank you for your attention."

Video: Place de la Concorde.

TEDx Talk Gabrielle Thierry, TEDxESTACA2023

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