Friday, January 10, 2014

Symphony at an Exhibition, Part 2

Yesterday was the first time I had the chance to see any of the art work from Symphony at an Exhibition in real life, and I was blown away.  Three of the artists -- Brenda Berdnik, Barbara Albin, and Joy Carol -- participated in Maestro Raffaele Ponti's "Beyond the Notes" session at FGCU's Renaissance Academy.  (The Thursday before each concert, the Maestro has a two hour class at FGCU where students have an opportunity to learn more about the music that will be performed in the concert.)    The Maestro played a version of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition (compliments of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and YouTube), talking about each movement along the way.

Hartmann's Jew in a Fur Cap
Brenda Berdnik was given the Sixth Movement (Samuel Goldenberg and Schmuyle) to interpret.  (At the artist meeting, the artists drew numbers out of a hat to determine which movement they would paint.) Some of Hartmann's works (which inspired Mussorgsky's composition) have been preserved, and Goldenberg and Schmuyle are two of the existing paintings.   (To see all of the remaining works, including Schmuyle -- and listen to the music of Pictures at an Exhibition -- click here and scroll down.)

While I am not an artist (translation:  "not an artist" in this instance means "have no imagination"), I'm pretty sure that interpreting music that was inspired by paintings of two old Jewish men -- one a rich man and the other a beggar -- wouldn't have been my first choice.   As we listened to the music, the Maestro shared his vision of the beggar whining about his lot in life, with the rich man (played by a piccolo trumpet) responding, "shut up, shut up, shut up!"  Brenda was enthusiastic, though, and I could tell by watching her that she was immediately full of ideas.

From Berdnik's sketches
During the class, Brenda talked about the process of coming up with her final work (which she had put the finishing touches on just that morning), and shared some of her sketches.  Her initial thought was that she would create two paintings -- one of the rich Jew on a long and skinny canvas and the other of the beggar on a small square canvas.   (I love the scribblings of "yada, yada, yada" --reminiscent of a Seinfield episode -- at the top of her sketches!)

It didn't take her long to realize, though, that painting two old Jewish guys wasn't going to be much fun.  She switched gears and started thinking about doing an abstract.  The reds, recalling heat and fire, would represent the dominant man in the conversation, while the squiggles and cooler blues would represent the whiner.  (Interestingly, although Goldenberg is the wealthy one, his "voice" is the one that squeaks in the music.)

Throughout this process, Brenda was talking with other participating artists about the development of their works. Somebody suggested that she put her own spin on the piece.  Why not use something that she loves to represent the conversation? Nature provides Brenda with the inspiration for a lot of her art, and the mating ritual of the sandhill cranes, in which one of the cranes flaps around and jumps and leaps in an attempt to draw attention while the other plays it coy, came to mind.  (I wasn't familiar with this ritual, so checked it out on YouTube.  Quite interesting, to say the least.)   The parallels worked, so she went with it.
Brenda Berdnik's Conversation of Passion

Her finished work -- Conversation of Passion 
-- is absolutely stunning.  She worked on a large canvas (48x48), which provided plenty of room for the cranes' "conversation" to develop.  (Brenda has been working most recently in miniatures, so painting on a large scale was a big change -- literally!   She said that she's ordered an even larger canvas for her next project.)  The piece is very textured, with fiber, crackle and modeling paste incorporated.   It is truly an amazing piece of art.  

To see more of Brenda's work, check out The Gallery at Gannon's Art & Antiques in Fort Myers.    

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