Art Imitating Art
- By Brandon Chiat
- Published on April 16, 2012
|Mural at Domefest 2011 - Photo Credit: Jordan August|
Carolyn Tunney stared curiously at her canvas.
The air in the tiny venue was hot and weighed heavily with smell of stale beer and sweaty bodies. Her back to the audience, Tunney removed her sweater and exposed a large Big Bertha tattoo that crept up from underneath her tank top and stretched just under shoulder.
Perhaps it was the iconic Grateful Dead symbol that beckoned a small crowd to form around her, but in all likelihood, it was the enthralling, ever-evolving vision that extended from her paintbrush. Tunney is a live-artist.
As a member of the Baltimore-based art collective, Psychacrylic, she travels to shows and festivals to complement the concert experience with a visual representation that is just as spontaneous and expressive as the music itself.
Live artists take their inspiration from the tempo and tone of the given show. However, their work also effects the direction and feel of that same show, and so the artistic relationship is reflective and symbiotic.
Live art’s roots run parallel to that of the jam scene at large, having first emerged during the counter-culture era of the 1960s and, surprisingly enough, gaining real traction during the 1980s.
|"Eye of the Storm" - painted at a Dark Star Orchestra show|
Headstash Magazine: What is it about live art and live music that complement each other so well? Certainly the spontaneity of the musicians can be inspiring to visual artists, but can visual artists be inspiring to performing musicians as well?
Carolyn Tunney: Both art forms appeal to different senses. When we’re at a show, we’re listening to the music and maybe watching the band or the lasers or the visuals. Live art further stimulates that visual experience. For the musicians, the art is a tangible piece of their music.
Dayna Harris Smith: Being around creative people only fuels one’s creativity. Each artist is feeding different senses, but the combination enhances the entire experience. By having a live artist you have a constant, tangible, reminder of that amazing show.
HM: Let’s talk about the concept of temporality and how it plays into live art. How does a concert’s finite length of time cause you to approach the piece? Is there a sense of pressure associated with a “deadline” and does this help or hurt the creative process?
DHS: Personally, I work well under pressure, but when I’m doing live art I’m in my own world. Time doesn't exist or matter. When the show is over, that's when I stop. Only on a couple of occasions have I added some finishing touches afterwards.
CT: Time is definitely an issue with live art, but I wouldn’t say I feel pressured by it – you just go with it, its part of the process.
For some shows, I come with a blank canvas and start from scratch. In this setting, I usually don’t have an image planned out – I just start painting and see what happens.
For other shows, I like to have a good idea before I start painting so that I’ll come out with a more concise piece. Often, the best ideas come through during the planning stages while you’re just trying to figure out colors and where to place images.
HM: How do different genres of music and the differing playing styles of individual musicians influence the direction of a your piece?
CT: The music guides my brush strokes. It definitely inspires the colors or theme of the art. For an electronic show, I’d probably paint with high-energy, using bright colors against crisp black, spontaneous paint splatters or geometric designs. A bluegrass show – I’d probably go more natural and maybe pick up some of the lyrics to find inspiration.
DHS: It’s through my use of color and shape that I’m able to portray the different genres of music. For example, with electronic music I find myself using cooler, darker colors, harsh angles and some form of alien is normally created. With folk and bluegrass, I tend to use warm colors, soft lines and more movement is expressed
HM: Live art is becoming highly sought after by collectors and enthusiasts alike. What do you attribute this self-sustaining culture to? Does this trend indicate that live art has reached a sort of permanence within the jam scene?
DHS: I believe it's because of the supportive nature of the community that allows this culture to thrive. It's a positive addition to the scene, as it provides artists the opportunity to live off their art. The more people who are able to live out their passion, the happier the world will be.
CT: Many artists, like the String Cheese Incident, encourage fans to submit artwork for upcoming tours with the opportunity to have their work released in poster form. As the live music scene continues to grow, musicians and promoters alike are looking for new, creative ways to make their event stand out from the rest. So incorporating a myriad of visual art forms is essential.
This commoditization of live art and psychedelic inspired art doesn’t hurt the scene, but it may stifle creativity. With the popularity of artists such as Alex Grey, many artists are going after that geometric psychedelic realm of expression. There’s now a number of artists all working in that same aesthetic. I think it’s important as an artist to remember to try something new.
HM: Are you inspired by the amateur artists in lots of festivals and venues?
DHS: You learn a lot from selling your art in lots – about people, business and yourself. The lot scene is a fantastic venue for an artist to share their work. Many people will see your creation, you'll hear lots of stories and you’ll make lots of friends and connections.
HM: Is there a sense of competition among young artists in the lot scene?
DHS: I think you should only be competitive with yourself. If there's an artist doing something you want to do, push yourself to do it and better. You grow as a person and artist through challenging yourself, so turn that jealousy into creativity.
For some live artists touring with a major band may be the end-goal, but my goal as an artist is to make people stop and appreciate the beauty in the world.
CT: There are a lot of other artists out there so of course there will be competition, but I think it’s friendly in nature. It drives many artists and creates a culture of collaboration – it’s all very supportive.
HS: When you start a new live art piece, what is the kind of impact and reaction you hope to garner? Is there something specific you want fans to take away?
CT: I just hope I can pull something together that either the fans or I like. I don’t expect anything – don’t expect the fans to love it, but when they do it’s a bonus.
Depending how much I’m attached to the piece, I’m usually happy to give it to the musicians or a fan for a small fee or trade. In the end, I want to take away the experience and satisfaction of completion.
DHS: The best part of live art is being able to see the progression – to see the creative mind at work. Live art allows me to express my subconscious by creating, then finding meaning. In every piece there is something in it that surprises me, and it's those surprises that excite me to continue on my journey.