For years, visual artists’ works have been inspired by music and musical instrument. Just think of Pablo Picasso and his friends: guitars, violins or even fragments of sheet music are often present in the paintings and collages. Russian Painter Wassily Kandinsky’s colorful works were his visual interpretations of Jazz. Composers such as Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel used the glistening imagery from French Impressionist paintings and infused their music with it. The intertwining of visual and musical art, and the love and collaboration that exists between these two worlds allow for deeper understanding and richer, more meaningful art. Ellen Priest with her works both the Carvel Building and the Delaware Center for Contemporary Art continues and elaborates on this tradition.
Priest creates a small world of art inside her exhibit at the Carvel Building, scheduled to run through the end of the month. Making a stop there during Wilmington’s July Art Loop, we could hear strains of Edward Simon’s “Venezuelan Suite” as we entered the building. Simon's jazz composition is an aural canvas for Priest’s work. Priest told me she had worked listening to both the composer’s midi files and his piano version of the score, so that she could truly understand the music and have it inform her creation. She describes how she used Simon’s “call and response” theme in the fourth movement as a structure for one of the diptychs in the series: the two paintings communicate with each other.
Her work is performance art in its own right: the abstract shapes and colors are layered. Built with translucent vellum on top of watercolor paper, they reach out to their audience with their bold hues and delicately sculpted curves. To retain each layer’s independence, the artist attaches the pieces using gel. Priest explained how she had worked painstakingly to find ways to paint on the vellum (a paper originally designed for use by architects) without destroying it. Ultimately, she came up with a technique in which she let the oil paints drain in coffee filters overnight, allowing most of the oil to slough off.