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Rita Draper Frazão: A Fine Artist's Representations Of Creative Processes In Music (Part 2)


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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 at 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. This is Part 2 of my navaid to the work of Rita Draper Frazão (read Part 1).

In this part we will further navigate the pictorial universe of Rita Draper Frazão with the following five aspects as orientation points:

  1. characteristics of the live drawing/creational situation;
  2. the interconnectedness of the artist's personal engagement, the musician's soul, and the spirit/potential of used materials and techniques;
  3. the unification of heterogeneous materials, techniques, media;
  4. the narrative fixture;
  5. the elucidation of personal creative processes and their sources.

Immersion in the creational situation of live drawing

Rita Draper Frazão has been making drawings of musicians at concerts since she was a teenager. Through her father she became a frequent and experienced concert visitor and was able to keep developing her craftswomanship and artistry during the past two decades. Through these creative activities she had become quite familiar with a lot of musical developments. However, her approach of a concert situation differs from that of a writing journalist. It is actually quite the opposite. She emphasizes she has to be free and open in her mind, soul and perception when entering the performance situation of both the musicians and herself—no classificatory grids to rely on. It is the moment-to-moment performance that needs to be caught in speaking, touching and convincing imagery created on the spot.

Bill Laswell at Jazz em Agosto 2014

It is impromptu work demanding deep immersion, determination, richly flowing imaginational forces, clarity and a capability to take quick and apt decisions. Traces of these aspects can be recognized in the short narratives belonging to her portraits. These narratives give an impression of how a personal view (in a double sense: the observing creator of the portrait and the observed creator of music) is realized through the composition of a portrait and the special shapes it takes.

One of the most salient features of her work is the deeply personal account of observable sound making processes, its modification and transformation. She has the great gift to uncover the connection between personal characteristics and a portrayed person's search (and struggle) for his/her very own sound and voice. In a performance situation she consistently follows its logics to connect it with the logics and nature of the materials chosen for the creation its visual expressions.

To achieve this she has to recognize and filter personal and contextual characteristics and figure out apt ways to represent or hint at it. It is similar to open improvisation/real time creation in music. She has to watch/listen, take quick and sensible decisions to act and follow the architecture arising from it. In principle necessary post-performance production is meant as activity to complete/refine the projected architecture/composition. Examples of portraits that required this are for instance the portraits of percussionist Hamid Drake, vocalist Maria Radich, and vocalist/trumpeter Jaawwad Taylor.

Hamid Drake at Jazz em Agosto 2014

The great variety she uncovers and gives shape can make us aware of the richness, depths, resources and forces of personalized expression. It corresponds with a great diversity of representational forms and compositional approaches in Draper Frazão's work. A clearly discernible and very strong signature forms a connecting thread in the diversity of her work.

As mentioned before, traces of her choices and decision-making become apparent from the narratives embedded in many of her portraits. These narratives, in various ways, elucidate the process of creation while hinting at things filtered out in observation, decisions taken and imagery shaped. By opening up to these underlying processes, offering a glimpse into Draper Frazão invites viewers to in turn share each other's narratives and imaginations.

A triad: empathy, music(ian)'s soul and spirit of material/techniques

As stated before the diversity of composition and representation has strong underlying/leading logics and a clearly discernible signature. It is no variation for variation's sake. Draper Frazão states she knows quite quickly, after just a few first impressions in a live situation, which materials, compositional approach and media she is going to use. There is a dynamic interaction between the poles of the triad: the empathy of the artist for the unfolding musical process, the radiation and earthing of the involved musician(s) and the spirit of colors, materials and techniques that fit (or do not fit) the portrait to yield. The dynamics of this triad channel the perception and open it up at the same time. A few examples to illustrate this and give an indication (some drawings can be seen in the text others in the related gallery).

'The Garden' is a portrait of vocalist Rita Martins

Viewers might perceive this portrait as the woman's head opening up. The interior is a flower garden from which her voice arises. On the other hand, viewers may also see a space opening up for Martins' voice to be projected into. The voice rises from a rich flower garden all the way up to the blue sky. It expresses the joyful reception of the singer's voice and a deep connectedness between this voice, her soul, and the beauty of the outer world. The woman's closed eyes strengthen this sense of ambiguity.

One of her later portraits of this singer, Bonsai Rita, elaborates on this. Not only the woman/voice emerges from the clouds; it also involves a color-transition/transformation: "To get the green you have to join the sunny yellow and the sky blue. It takes a forest, air and clouds to shape Rita. Rita..." The drawing expresses the emergence of the person and the voice: "Rita Bonsai I called this one. It's about the things to grow and the things to let go and it was made during a concert where she was singing."

An example of a more radical choice is the portrait of Maria Radich/José Bruno Parrinha at Festival de Jazz e Música Improvisada da Parede at SMUP 2015. It mainly shows the words of a poem in an image with a silhouette of the two protagonists/musicians. Apparently the urge to use words and elaborate on those was so strong it became the portrait's core element.

"It is nothing very common, but I can point out three of four concerts where I was, and due to it, an important catharsis happened with me. In all those important moments, I felt a switch was turned on in my head and nothing was like as it used to be, afterwards. This drawing is the testimony of one of those rare moments. It was the concert Maria Radich and José Bruno Parrinha gave. Their music extension was very deep in me, and led me to be writing almost the whole time of their performance. On this one, I wanted the text to be its main feature (I called it Volte-Face), not the drawing itself. The colors chosen regard to the text too, both Maria and Bruno have colors flowers and gardens have (or so that was my inspiration). The background color regards to the city references in the text: the streets and the corner that led me to the stone, the construction, the pavement, the smog, the pale grey."

As a possible translation of the poem Draper Frazão offers this:

From the ties and the scarce .
Going forcibly or embarrassedly,
Crass errors or wonderful loose gardens.
These are little steps,
streets of brutal connection,
of a change to come,
on the corner of such a country.
without languages in what it says,
of fast rhumb and poise,
It's juice in life,
It's course of dreams,
Of peels with color,
of zest with love.

This example shows that Draper Frazão's portraits offer much more than an impression of an actual situation. It goes beyond, diving deeper into the experiential memory of the (individual) listener associated with the sounds of the musical performance.

Another striking example is one of the other portraits Draper Frazão created of Maria Radich. It is an example of a strong visual idea triggered by the music making, one that required some post-performance production.

"Maria Radich has appeared on this blog twice, once I drew her on MIA this year, and also I had the privilege to do the cd cover of ReMoTeImPLoV project where she sang too. She is an artist of the body and voice. Being a dancer too, while doing this drawing I was also thinking in the small movements she does with her hands while making those incredible things she does with her voice—a nicety work, a sort of lace. All about little details, the spaces and sounds in between things, or the pores as I got inspired to do this one. And no, this is not a photoshop pattern or filter, each of these little circles were made by hand."

Color plays a significant role in her work. She uses color for the expression of inner states and associations with the quality of the music watched and listened to. In this portrait of the group Ceramic Dog (Ches Smith, Shazad Ismaily, Marc Ribot) couleur locale is a determining factor.

This is a portrait of the group Ceramic Dog with Marc Ribot, Shazad Ismaily and Ches Smith. It's a portrait not easy to identifiable without giving (a) name(s). In this portrait couleur locale is a determining factor.

"I wanted to have the Texan-Mexican thing and even the color. It's the contrast of yellow and purple I wanted to have here. It's gouache ink, which is more opaque. It had pretty much to do with the vibe of the concert. I don't know sometimes, I can't really explain. I made a portrait of Marc Ribot before that but it was completely different."

What's remarkable here is that Draper Frazão uncovers a deeper trait of Ceramic Dog's music. And, if I remember it well the opaque yellow was also used on an old version of Ribot's website.

"Ladies and Gentleman we are heading to the Ceramic Dog Saloon here. The beginning of their concert was a mixture between folk, blues and rock. It led me to the idea to represent the trio with a Texas Saloon swinging doors like and the trio (Marc Ribbot, Shazad Ismaily and Ches Smith) in a progressive ochre gradient."

There is normally a strong motivation and urge to use a certain material or to pursue special concepts. The portrait of electronic musician Dieb 13 for example is fabricated with nail polish.

Swedish drummer Per Åke Holmlander morphs into a fly, the portrait of reedist Ricardo Ribeiro she made with two hands, drawing simultaneously (for a reason). The portraying of cellist Ricardo Jacinto was envisioned as having a tree-like roughness (see the gallery for these portraits)

The portraits of Draper Frazão tell us intricate stories about listening experiences, told by well-chosen ensembles of representational means. In a sense you could say that she "draws and paints music."

Transcending, unification

The unifying potentials of an ensemble of heterogeneous materials and techniques has to prove itself in confrontation with viewers. The combination method determines its transcending effect. This is a portrait of guitarist Jonathan Horne of genre defying group The Young Mothers from Austin. They performed at Jazz em Agosto 2015 in Lisbon and presented themselves within a surprising but utterly fitting, elevating context. In this particular case the guitarist's outfit on stage as well as the music performed stimulated such an approach.

This approach is commonly referred to as a collage while in fact it has much resemblance with sampling and (live) remixing in music (read my review of Hamid Drake Carte Blanche) where new, unified pieces are created from heterogeneous, often fragmented parts.

Experiences and impressions can also be condensed in such a highly unified form as the Egyptian portrait of Hamid Drake. This portrait offers a fairly high degree of projective condensing and metaphorical potential. It clearly exceeds the possibilities of a gripping verbal description.

As part of Franz Hautzinger's Big Rain Hamid Drake played with Keijo Heino, Franz Hautzinger and Jamaladeen Tacuma at Jazz em Agosto 2014 in Lisbon. It was the first time Draper Frazão saw him performing.

"This specific concert was the first concert I ever saw Hamid playing. I was, you know, it blew my mind. I was... I felt like... poof... just as if a starship had landed on the stage -star in the sense of a transcendence thing. Just landed in front of me. I remember this image. I don't really remember the music whatsoever but my memory of this specific concert is, oh god, I have so many ideas, I want to put them on paper, it's crazy, they inspired me so much hahahaha [emotional outburst], my god."

She was overwhelmed and touched, deeply impressed.

"When I saw Hamid playing, oh god, I thought he is like an Egyptian god, like these enlightened beings that just landed at my front. (...) it was really touching. You know [emotional] he was generous and he was sharing with all of us that great light inside and I think all of us could feel that in that moment."

His appearance sparked a blowout of inspirations and ideas that urged to realization. From his appearance and the way he played the drums arose and unfolded the association with the ancient Egyptians.

"And I felt that Hamid had this really, hm, mystical, ritual approach in how he played the drums, especially the drums. For percussion, I think, it is easier to go with a more mystical approach. The drums, it is harder I think. I was really fascinated by how he turned it in a complete other thing that I had never seen before in my life. It was enlightening; it was beautiful. And so, in a way, I felt, I thought about this philosophy the Egyptians had about regarding life and death, you know."

The inspirational effect and urge was so strong that she created two portraits, which is uncommon for her especially at a festival with so many musicians. It was quite an enterprise to give shape to the initial impulse, the strong inspiration. First she had to learn more about the hieroglyphs.

..."you know this hieroglyph written on the back of the drawing... it means: BLESSED BY GIVING LIVE. I didn't know how to write this in ancient Egyptian letters of course. So I needed to do a lot of research and to learn a bit of the letters in order to be able to write it myself."

She had to inspect other aspects of ancient Egyptian figuration to find her representational form. She did not borrow one specific deity from the ancient sources, but combined some essential traits.

..." there is no presentation of ONE specific deity like that I designed for Hamid. I mixed different things from different divinities from Egyptian art. But the colors I used were only used for royalty, especially the gold color. And also the posture had to satisfy all sorts of rules of proportions of the figure. It took me really a long time to finish this."

She concedes that the strength and clarity of the impulse triggered a highly personal association and an intrinsic urge to develop the figure from these ancient sources. Both were driving forces that carried her along this route.

"What I can say about this? I was feeling he was giving us so much light that it really connected me to this life after death of the Egyptians kind of thing. So it was a personal connection, but it was, yaah, it was obvious of course. For others it's not and I totally understand what you say: you look at the drawing and you don't really understand why in the world I thought of the Egyptian to represent Hamid but these were the reasons."

In this case there was a longer way from the sensations and impulses of the musical performance to the highly charged elegance of the resulting figure. The meeting in Amsterdam revealed that Hamid Drake wore two things Rita Draper Frazão had been drawing before: the hat of the Egyptian and, in the other portrait, the red shirt.

"And it was so funny. I was looking at the drawing with him on my site and we were looking "oh, you have exactly this one and he said: oh! His hat had blue with turquoise parts on beige, you know, everything was beige in reality. On my drawing there is a little strap that is indigo blue and turquoise thing you know. It was funny, it was coincidence and actually the other portrait from the same festival he is with that red shirt he actually worked with in the Amsterdam concert."

She clearly shows her affection for this work of her own and its elaboration: "it's one of my favorites."

Narrative fixture

Through the years viewers repeatedly expressed they would like to learn more about the genesis of her portraits. That is how the narratives came into being. The form of the narratives varies as do the techniques and materials used in her work. The narrative is offered in a casual, sometimes almost by-the-way way. It is not didactics but communication. Draper Frazão developed it as a strong instrument for exchange. The narratives have traces of and offer small hints to the three aspects discussed before (immersion, triad, unification). These narratives relate the artist, her work and its genesis to the viewer—who can also be a musician/artist -and invite him/her to enter and exchange.

This opens up stimulating new possibilities for the discourse on music. It is quite unique that Portuguese jazz magazine Jazz.PT picked up the concept and now regularly publishes portraits of Draper Frazão. I do not know any other jazz magazine in Europe that would consider this or dare to publish work like it. Perhaps Portuguese culture provides some prerequisites to welcome something like this and to make it work.

Elucidating personal creative processes and their sources

The portraits of Draper Frazão reveal a refreshing wealth of variety and diversity. These inspiring insights into sources and processes of personal (musical) expression create a breathing space for individual artists and art in general. As works of art they are, however, not confined to and reduced to the real event/persons they were triggered and inspired by. To deal with their dual nature time and again is highly demanding for the artist herself. Through their engagement, integrity, artistic focus, as well as their distinctive and rich forms, these works form highly valuable contributions in the discourse about music making and musical expression.

Conclusão da Dialética

It makes one curious which views, insights and forms her Hamid Drake Amsterdam works/portraits will present, what light they will shed on places, processes, and people involved. It also makes you wonder what this kind of duo-work will bring about. Furthermore, it will be interesting to see how review(s) and portraits, portraits and portrait will meet and relate to each other. So far it has been a challenging as well as lively and highly rewarding experience, open to more dialectical conclusions, moves and continuations. Something to fly (to) ...

Per Åke Holmlander at Jazz em Agosto 2015

All drawings © Rita Draper Frazão

Thanks to Tanya Balian, Nausikaä de Blaauw, Franziska Buhre, Hamid Drake, Ludmilla Faccenda, Henry Kozok, Huub van Riel and all musicians for their music making as source for our re-views, re-examinations and re-imaginations. A special thank to Rita Draper Frazão for inspiring energies and insights in joyful cooperation.

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