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Artist Statement concerning my Jazz Art Images
by Suzanne Cerny
(This was originally written for an exhibit at the Tucson Access TV
Station, as well as a short video on jazz art for the show "15
During a recent jazz performance a friend sitting next to me asked why
I draw the musicians during their concert. Her question surprised me.
I thought it was obvious that since I enjoyed jazz music, and liked to
paint people, that the answer would be obvious. I told her that the
act of drawing actually made me feel a part of the music. It is a
variation within the concept of art education for me. I use the
feeling of the moment, the many sounds and changes that I experience
in a jazz performance help me to draw more freely. Therefore I tend to
make better use of the medium and take my art to new levels.
I will divulge more of the feelings that I have about drawing in
general. Drawing for me is a solo experience. I bring it out for
others to see and that is an important part of the artistic
expression. I like connecting with people. I have to admit that I get
a little defensive sometimes. I want people to have to like my art,
and I am gratified when they feel something personal when they look at
it. Now that I am allowing myself to become more visible, I realize
that I need to have something to say that is real for me, and will
therefore be real for others, either on a technical basis, a subject
area, or within the realm of personal expression, but hopefully on all
three of those levels.
When I was young and in college, and was learning about the art world,
it was all about feeling for me. I felt a lot of emotion when I looked
at the masters. I especially liked Matisse for his color and
interpretive design, and I also liked Picasso for his depth of feeling
in his blue and rose periods, when he was drawing people that he
observed. I related very much to natural surroundings, As a little
girl I celebrated the sunrise, the smell of the grasses, the placement
of rocks and soil and plants. It was only natural when I was
introduced to Monet and the Impressionists that I felt deeply when I
saw their interpretations. Explaining feelings, methods, and personal
symbolism is something that all artists have to face.
Artists are sometimes asked: Why do you paint the way you do? Why do
you play the way you do? And we must have answers for people that
satisfy their needs, when they ask it. Their questions are sometimes
instructive or informative if we are open to their inner relationship
as a viewer or buyer or our art..
Talking to musicians about their music is interesting to me. It is
certainly a different dialogue from talking with painters. There is no
mixing of the two. Even when we are thinking of the aspect of feeling,
the feeling we experience when we do the art, we are talking different
languages, mainly because the medium is different.
I talked for a while with Lenny Redhouse, the drummer in the Larry
Redhouse Jazz Trio. He said that when he plays with the group, his
feelings of the moment, his memories of that day, come out in his
playing. The way he put it was: His emotions come out in performance.
He has to know the form of the song, he said, not just rhythm ideas.
He has to react, and be creating something. Another instrument gives
an idea and he runs with it, and builds on it. He said that the bass
player gave him something to work off of, and keeps him from
stagnating. The implication of tones, colors and textures, Lenny said,
meaning the timing and the sound, is what he draws upon. Lenny also
mentioned that the drum is circular, and this is important to him for
choosing this instrument. Lenny said that Elvin Jones is someone who
he can relate to because Elvin is sheer power and emotion. Elvin Jones
was a drummer for John Coltrane.
To return to the subject of drawing jazz musicians live in
performance, I will use an example from artist John Gould, a Canadian
artist, from a book of drawings that I had seen recently called "The
Drawn Image". John Gould was commissioned by Marcel Marceau, the
famous Mime, to draw him in performance. John Gould had his drawings
filmed, and watching the sequence of them brought his drawings to
He sketched bull fights in Spain and then filmed them. On portraits John said:
"Not every face embodies an idea, but, I think a good portrait drawing
can do this�transmit an idea. He said, I often draw away from models,
creating faces. Later I discover the face was in my mind for a long
time. It wasn't so much created as uncovered. When I draw from a face
I am looking for something that will ignite an idea. From that point
on I'm not just taking an inventory of features, I'm watching an
unconscious idea confirming itself as I work." J.G.
Well, getting back to sketching musicians in performance, it is very
similar for me. I work in the dark, I make rapid gestural lines,
letting myself go much more than when I am doing a study of a still
person or object in correct lighting conditions, and I am not so much
trying to get an idea from their face or emotion just now, but more
how they hold themselves to get through their performance. One thing I
am very aware of, and something that an astute professor in college
pointed out, was the time factor. The time line to complete a painting
is completely different. I can lay a drawing down and wait until that
musician plays again to continue my work.
Their song has to be accurate and on time all the way through, even in
their rest time! My experience is relaxed but on my own cue. I start
to draw I feel it is the right moment for me, when I have the idea,
and like jazz, it can take a completely different turn at any time. I
am conscious of their starts and stops. Because I have had a lot of
traditional art training, I am aware of keeping my piece consistent
all the way through, particularly if I am planning to make a major
finished piece out of it, and not just a sketch. My thoughts and
feelings arise and subside and I can pause while I decide to
concentrate completely on the music that they are performing. At that
moment I completely forget about drawing at all.
I completed a series of portraits of Jazz musicians in Santa Barbara
during a three year stint in a jazz club as on site artist. It is both
from historic photographs and from the musicians advertising
promotional photos as well as from live sketching as described above.
My idea then was to study the faces and body language of the legendary
musicians, to give me a sort of understanding, anatomy and the
sketches gave me a new way of putting down pastel and charcoal on
Music has always moved me to greater heights. My grandmother played
classical piano, and I took piano lessons at a young age. I somehow
amassed a great record collection of popular music, and I don't
remember actually buying the records. I played them during the long
nights of high school homework, and was an avid radio listener, which
I still am.
I sorely miss not having been in on the ripe young jazz scene when it
was happening in New York City in the 1950's. I was attending the High
School of Music and Art which was in Harlem, and I was just being
introduced to jazz through the music students at my school. I had an
invitation to visit a church and hear gospel from one of the senior
piano students in my school who played organ there, but I didn't go. I
lived in Queens, quite far away.
Now that I am listening to concerts and using the listening time to
make drawings, I have a sense of time and place from my legendary
drawings. I have been fortunate to meet some of the families of the
well known musicians. T.S. Monk, Jr. a drummer with a large traveling
band of his own, and tells wonderful anecdotes of his famous father
during his breaks. Ravi Coltrane played in Santa Barbara also, and I
was able to tell him how I became a jazz fan by listening to his
father's 33 RPM record of A Love Supreme. Ravi liked the sketches I
did of him so much that he commissioned me through the owner of the
club to draw his family from an assortment of photographs that his
sister Michelle Coltrane, a jazz vocalist put together for me. The
portrait of John, their father, was done from a small magazine printed
on newsprint in Japan. Ravi had been looking for a portrait of his
father without holding a horn or leaning on his fist as he often did
when at rest, and it was the only one that Ravi could find like this.
The family was very generous in lending booklets from their record
sets, and when I finished the family portrait, I spent a day with
their mother Alice Coltrane as she had me do a few corrections. The
portrait was a gift to her for her 60th birthday.
I feel most comfortable and able to concentrate on what I want to do
when I am not obliged to be too social. I don't mind being part of the
performance and being observed, because I was a portrait artist in San
Francisco, part of the Art Commission there, where we had regulated
areas to set up on the sidewalk in highly trafficked areas.
But I don't like people talking to me and expecting immediate and
sometimes explanations, while I am obviously focused on the process.
The professional musicians are usually willing to talk with me later
after the show, me being part of the audience. They have different or
indifferent reactions to my drawing activity.
In more than 15 years of doing this, I only had one musician ask me to
stop. We were in a small jazz club, and he had laid out his percussion
instruments, all small brass and wood instruments, on a large red
carpet in the area where they band was playing. He was disturbed by
the scratching of my pencil on the paper.
Musicians are constantly learning from one another in their practice
and when they play together. Painters have to do the same so I take
drawing workshops from time to time. I need to know what is going on
in the contemporary art scene and be informed, even if I choose to
draw to the beat of a different drummer.