Rock Music Finds Form in Abstract Painting

Perhaps the most famous marriage of conceptual art and music, John Cage’s 4’33”, performed in 1952, consisted of musicians doing nothing but listening to the sounds in a room for the duration of 4 minutes and 33 seconds. Paul Kos later trained microphones on melting ice, prompting viewers to strain their ears and imagine the sound of an inaudible process. Contemporary artists such as Laurie Anderson and Tristan Perich focus their practices on the relationship between the visual, tactile, and audible; Anderson by performing on invented experimental instruments and wearing a sonic bodysuit that emits sounds according to her movements, and Perich by creating soundscapes in the format of traditional wall-hangings which, composed of tuned speakers, invite viewers to lean in and explore the works’ audio terrain.  

Tim Bavington’s intense fields of psychedelically colored stripes, on view in his upcoming show at Bentley Gallery, might not appear at first glance to relate to music, but underpinning these paintings is the artist’s experience of popular music by the likes of the Rolling Stones, Oasis, The Who, Jimi Hendrix, and Neil Young, among other rock icons. Cultivating his own sort of synesthesia, Bavington assigns musical notes to tones of color and compositional elements, so that his paintings seem to pulsate and reverberate with rhythmic bands of synthetic polymer paint. Some of his more swirling, curvilinear compositions might recall digital visualizations of music.

Sometimes drawing on music’s existing visual correlates—album covers and sheet music—Bavington also creates abstracted versions of covers or bisects his canvas horizontally into two coinciding fields of stripes, resembling separate musical bars. His work has been compared to the intoxicatingly atmospheric qualities of a Mark Rothko and Dan Flavin’s neon bars of light, and Bavington’s paintings, a bit like Rothko’s, appear to alter slightly when viewed from different vantage points, the clean stripes blurring when seen up-close, to mesmerizing effect. Though governed by a self-imposed regimen, Bavington’s works also include personal notes and improvisational elements: “I generally read sheet music and start with that as a sketch. Then, I go from there,” he has said. “The color palette is pretty subjective, it’s not scientific or mathematical. You can’t imagine what sounds will come out when you look at a score. Basically I do the same things as a musician (when reading music), except I interpret the score with color instead of sound.”

Tim Bavington: New Work” is on view at Bentley Gallery, March 7–April 25, 2014.

Explore more artists at Bentley Gallery.

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