A CREATIVE COLLABORATION
CLAIRE & JOE
The beautiful music for this video starts after a few seconds please be sure to have your sound turned up.
In January 2016 I began a collaboration with the talented musician Joe Samuel. Joe is a classically trained pianist who joins me in my studio once a week. When we are together I paint in response to what I hear him play and he, in turn, plays in response to what he sees evolving on my canvas. He records all music played in our sessions and I photograph the painting as it develops. The video above shows the results, visually and musically, of our first sessions together.
For me, as an artist, it's a fascinating way of working. It's almost as if we are dancing together, the creative call and response; exciting and scary all at once. I have to abandon how I believe the painting should develop and really listen to Joe. I feel the music and respond in a truly honest way to that, and that alone. Music leads the painting down unexpected paths that I might, but in fact probably wouldn't, have taken otherwise. Each move of my brush, each colour chosen, is decided via my intuitive response to the music Joe plays. As my brushstroke takes a different turn or my colours darken I hear his reply and feel the change in the music. I have always painted alone, totally in control of all visual choices, but here I have to let go and let the music inform my creative process and guide my hand.
It’s a real privilege to have such a talented musician playing to me while I work. We can paint/play for hours together in silence, without even taking a break. We have also agreed that none of the painting is worked on without Joe present and playing. The result is a genuine product of our collaboration alone. It is extremely hard for me to walk away from the work and just wait until our next session.
HOW WE MET
Joe and I met about 3 years ago when I went to a four day comedy improvisation retreat in Devon, run by the successful Maydays improv. troupe. Joe is their pianist and musical director. It took me over a year before I dared to take one of his music classes. I found just doing improv. comedy scary enough, without the additional pressure of singing! When I finally did, I fell totally in love with it and really enjoyed working with Joe. He is a musical genius, as anyone who has ever seen him work or had a class with him will attest.
One evening after a class, in the local pub, Joe and I chatted about how we both worked creatively. I improvise all my paintings. I work on the spot without visual resources, I never draw anything out in advance and paint totally in the moment, using as my guide only what is within me. He, of course works the same way, creating beautiful music spontaneously. In a moment of inspiration, we came up with the idea of doing this together, to see how we could influence each other’s work.
When doing the musical improvisation classes and shows together, Joe could always sense just what I needed from him regarding where I wanted the music to go. I knew he could read me physically and emotionally when I was on stage singing, so I had a feeling he might be able to do the same in the studio, but I had no idea just how well it would work.
I wasn't sure if I would be self-conscious painting with someone present. This isn't something I had ever done before, let alone with someone who is pretty much watching my every move, hour after hour. But it was just a really natural way to work. We seemed to know instinctively when a section of the painting/music was coming to an end and, whenever we stopped, we would be in awe of what had just taken place. As artists, it was so exciting to work in this new way.
Joe and I now plan to exhibit our work together. A ‘Q code’ next to my paintings will allow people to access Joe’s music so that they can listen from their phones with headphones, whilst looking at my work. Through this technology, they can also watch time-lapse films of the painting’s evolution.
We also plan to recreate what we do in the studio live in front of audiences. We want to bring the creative process out of the studio and into public spaces and venues. It’s so rare that we witness an artist painting or a musician composing let alone see them doing this together, each influenced by the other. We met via the performing arts and it seems only fitting that we should bring this into the collaboration and share what we are trying to achieve. It’s not just about the end results, the painting or the music, but about the creative journey we take together and the trust and commitment it requires.
I find Joe’s music deeply moving, I’m so proud to have been a part of the creative process that brought it into the world.
Traditionally painting and music have been perceived as separate art forms but in the pieces that Joe and I create they are forever entwined.