Rita Draper Frazão: A Fine Artist's Representations Of Creative Processes In Music (Part 1)

Henning Bolte By

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This portrait of Portuguese fine artist Rita Draper Frazão is related to the recent Carte Blanche of percussionist Hamid Drake's that took place at the Amsterdam Bimhuis (read my February 2016 review). As a collaborative follow-up this article is published together with a series of portraits Rita Draper Frazão created of musician and others involved in or related to the Carte Blanche of Hamid Drake: From Chaos To A Dancing Star. Rita Draper Frazao's portraits are published simultaneously at Inner Tour. This is part 1 of my navaid to the work of Rita Draper Frazão.

Fine artists now

The portrayal of jazz musicians at work in visual arts has a long tradition emerging alongside new art forms that came up about a century ago. The syncretism of jazz and the way it was expressed appealed to and inspired new esthetics of that period. During the 40s of the last century photography began to heavily influence the shaping of a special jazz image from which emerged a rather influential and determining jazz iconography. Also in the visual arts the interaction between both art disciplines continued. Jean-Michel Basquiat and A.R. Penck are two major representatives of the period before the turn of the century.

Fine artists make use of today's great variety of tools and techniques, yet their work often takes more time to create and 'be read' by viewers than for instance the photography we are more used to. The work of fine artists often requires more effort to 'read' and subsume to one's own (automated) patterns of perception compared to for instance photos of (jazz) musicians. We are more familiar with the latter ones and know how to perceive and process them en passant via well-established patterns of perception. As far as the creation of portraits of live music is concerned, demands and efforts also differ, especially when accomplished by participation through live drawing. In a live drawing/creational situation the artist may produce a rough drawing or sketch an arrangement/composition of elements and materials he or she has to complete afterwards. Any required special materials and/or colors often are not available or take too much time to apply in real time in a live situation.

A fine artist's work does not necessarily transcend the prevailing atmospheric, heroic representation of jazz musicians at work, but often enough does. Some younger artists in particular focus on exterior things, like sound-qualities, as well as interior aspects such as their personal approach to (and struggle, obsessions with) sound qualities, dynamics etc. From a thorough grasp of music making they give it shape in their heterogeneous, multiform and multifaceted composition of images. With an abundance of media, materials, and techniques at hand, fine artists have to make sharp choices. To achieve highly condensed imagery offering uncommon, surprising personal views on situations of music making, they have to be aware of live situation aspects to work on and elucidate, take decisions on materials and techniques and the kind of imagery they wish to create.

It seems that this kind of artistic representation can give productive impulses by (re)triggering audiences' own dormant mental images related to music(ians) they experienced and re-gard, re-examine these. This is how such work contributes to the discourse on music in a significant, engaging way and how it can provide highly productive impulses to the perception and reception of music. It then no longer forms a situation in which different art forms co-exist and are connected through their common sujet: 'music making.' It can open up a 'real' interchange and mediation and form a bridge between art forms and audience (for a more advanced example, see the collaboration of Draper Frazão with British-Brazilian band Smoke City here). Personally it stimulated me to inspect and re-examine my perception of music making situations and musicians' acting as well as the use of the verbal imagery and perspective(s) in my own writing.

Towards The Hamid Drake Amsterdam Project

I experienced some stimulating examples of this during festivals last year, especially in Bucharest, Lisbon, Kristiansand and Wroclaw, places where musicians, film makers, photographers and writers meet and fine artists were involved and engaged. It instigated me to occupy myself more closely with this subject. It accelerated when I got acquainted with the work of Portuguese fine artist Rita Draper Frazão. The music(ian) portraits on her blog INNER TOUR and in Portuguese jazz magazine Jazz.pt opened up a new dimension for me.

There was a common part of concerts and musicians I also wrote about here whereby it became an inspiring and valued exchange. To be confronted with her work resulted in surprise and wonderment. It quickly revealed that her work was more than just beautiful drawings complementary to a written festival report. Her portraits were full of valuable information and pointed imagery and imbued by an open passionate attitude towards artists as well as listeners/viewers/the audience.

From here a common project evolved to cover Chicagoan drummer Hamid Drake's Carte Blanche at the Bimhuis in Amsterdam. My contribution to this contrastive coverage, a live review. The musician portraits of Rita Draper Frazão are published simultaneously with this article at INNER TOUR. Both parts were created in parallel. Like you, our readers, I don't get to see her portraits until the moment of publication.

When viewing her work you will notice that musician portraits often include an inviting narrative fixture elucidating the creational process. Moreover, they often contain letters, words or even poems. I wondered how she manages such a variety of modes, channels and media in a live drawing situation during a concert. Her answer was disarmingly simple: "I just do it. It is natural for me!" By way of practical demonstration and experience she produced a drawing when I interviewed her on her work. While I was working on a portrait of her as an artist, she, the interviewed person, created a portrait of the interviewer. The conversations I had with Rita Draper Frazão on her work guided me when I was writing this article (a more verbatim elaboration is in preparation).

Contrasting accounts

Inspection of different accounts of the same music-making situation can reveal some of the specific capacity and productivity of each type of account. To stay clear one have to keep in mind that the work of a fine artist is not intended or planned strictly as an account of an event even when it gives a good or even better impression than a written journalistic review. Both clearly serve different functions.

I present you with two examples, both created independently from each other. First, two different renditions of the concert of Red Trio at Jazz em Agosto festival 2015 in Lisbon; second, two different characterizations of the same musician, British saxophonist Evan Parker (at different points in time). A same confrontation can also be applied to other performances at Jazz em Agosto 2015.

In my own written review the performance of Portuguese Red Trio + John Butcher is described as "a shadowy flickering and thundering affair, 'uma passagem através de um corredor místico do universo,' a passage through a mystic corridor of the universe." The review continues: "Rodrigo Pinheiro dug bells from the piano belly, John Butcher conjured prairie yells and cavern echoes with his soprano saxophone, Hernani Faustino canalized the seething lava streams and Gabriel Ferrandini swept the passage by the highly energetic whirling flow of his drumming. Butcher played totally in service of the trio's approach what revealed some special, even unfamiliar sonic sides of him, which worked out beautifully in a duo with bassist Faustino. Pinheiro alternating between the keys and plucking inside the piano provided texture and brightened up the music in subtle ways whereas Ferrandini reached a impressively high level in his striking combination of energy, precision and flow. The group indisputably put down a strong marker."

Draper Frazão portrays the concert and all four musicians at Jazz.pt and embedded a narrative and a poem on bassist Hernani Faustino at her website.

Drummer Gabriel Ferrandi: "If my Jazz em Agosto story were a fairy tale, Gabriel Ferrandini would certainly be its prince, riding the music. This concert, on a gallop, he snapped the cymbals, shaping the thin air around."

Guest saxophonist John Butcher: " ... I imagined the sound as a color being compressed in layers until exhaled."

Pianist Rodrigo Pinheiro: "There was a moment during the concert where he kind of was in this position, although he was like that to make certain sounds, I pictured him as if the piano was a music rug he was pulling. Some years ago, his playing inspired me to do one of my favorite musicians drawings so far.

Bassist Hernani Faustino: "Had made a portrait of this double bassist in a different occasion. This one was special because, along with this drawing I wrote a poem in the concert, for him, and the drawing regards to the text. As the outline was the first thing I did, just afterwords the content, I used pencil (thought of it as a color of dust and cement) and the colors used are mentioned there as well. The birds inside and the mad city outside Hernani Faustino."

Poem from the outside in
When the landscape and the city were imposing
of forgotten torsos,
it was the blue of the birds and the crimson of the Marvilas of life
the volcano arriving,
the airplane taking off
and the cement and dust,
it's only,
turban of another life
print runs of another blue, / one further south,
of stalled tide,
in a raft at dawn.
Poem from the outside in.

(Marvilas is a Portuguese parish (frequesia) in the municipality of Lisbon)

The second example is a portrait of legendary British saxophonist Evan Parker. Verbal accounts of music (-making) make use of metaphors and other verbal imagery. This text from the program notes of festival Jazz em Agosto in 2010 here employs it too.

"Parker and his music are like a primeval rock shaped by ongoing abrasive weathering. The storms, rain, dust and sand are his fellow musicians and the groups he had long term and intense cooperation with during the past four decades. Parker seems as undisturbable yet as sensitive for his company. Apparently he has a special gift to adjust to circumstances without leaving his inner track."

Draper Frazão created a drawing of Parker at Jazz em Agosto 2014 that refers to the circular breathing technique he employs for his genuine expression on the saxophone. It is not a simple picture but a depiction alluding to his personality and his way of interacting at the same time.

The first characterization of Parker offers a more exterior view and uses the weathering metaphor. Draper Frazão's depiction on the other hand focuses on the inside dynamics. She employs the image of the most basic process in connecting the dynamics of the interior with the dynamics of the exterior: breathing. Both imageries have their merits and can stimulate further reading and imagination by the reader/viewer. There are some clearly recognizable similarities, of course, and contact points between two different representations having different potentials.

Five key-aspects in Draper Frazão's work


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