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Interview with Ton van Meesche by Marco Maimeri from JazzColo[u]rs email-zine di musica jazz, Anno 111, numero 2 2010

Questions


1. What fascinates you about the great Jazz and Blues People and for which reason did you choose watercolors to portray their music?

 

When young, I became fascinated by jazz music and photography; combining the two arts was done

  by great jazz photographers like: Lee Tanner, Francis Wolff, Herman Leonard and many others.

  The Dutchman Ed van der Elsken was in the Fifties my preferred black and white photographer

  showing his artistic photos from concerts of the JATP in Amsterdam and Paris. But being still too

  young to attend concerts, the photos remained in my mind till the early Nineties .

  Only then, I started to use those photos to paint jazz musicians, first in oils, but after a short

  period I changed to water colours. Why?, my personal feeling is that water colour painting allows

  more improvisational freedom then oil painting; the latter you can correct or repaint whenever

  you want or need. I compare classical music to oil painting; great technique for playing the

  music , but no freedom for improvisation at all and when errors are made, you just correct!

  Watercolour painting does not allow corrections, but it generates great artistic freedom by the water

  flow!

 

2. How did your style of painting originate and who were the masters that inspired you?

 

  My style orginates from my late colleague, friend and painter Cor Hak, a Dutchman

  with whom I worked in the late Sixties on new color photography systems in Haarlem, The

  Netherlands.

  During various tests, we discussed literature and painting; rapidly I became "infected" by his

  enthusiasm and his water colour techniques. He showed me the work and life of other

  great water colour painters like his mentor Kees Verwey, then William Turner and the Belgian

  painter Rik Wouters.

  All those aquarellists used very vivid colours, not very typical for watercolours.

  I inherited that vivid colour style from Cor Hak and Kees Verwey. Both men used specifically strong

  blues and browns, which I continue to use in my work.

3. On your website, you have divided your jazz art works in six categories: “Miles Davis”, “Jazz Bands”, “Sax”, “Trumpetists”, “Blues” and “Others”. Could you talk about these categories regarding the Jazz and Blues musicians portrayed and the technique used to paint them?

  The six categories on my website more or less happened by chance when our son, Marcel, offered to

  create the website and I guess it was him who made the decision!

  Miles Davis is obviously one of my favourite subjects, as he often shows up performing in bright

  colours and was a favorite of many jazz photographers.

  There is a special "Saxophones " section as both the tenor and baritone saxes are

  my favorite instruments, particularly played by Hank Mobley, Lucky Thompson, Archie Shepp and

  Pepper Adams.

In "Jazz Bands " and "Others" you will see Bill Evans on the piano where the

  painting has a vivid red background, a concept from the french painter Nicolas De Staël of

  his huge painting "The Concert" exhibited in Antibes in the Grimaldi castle near Juan-les-Pins.

 

Painting blues people, I only started that 10 years ago; blues is the music which goes very deeply

  to the bottom of people's soul. For some forgotten reasons, I started doing that and

  still continue today. Painting blues men is a little different then jazz musicians; I often paint blues

  people whilst listening to quiet jazz or classical music, never swinging jazz; guess

  somehow the sadness of blues men and their poverty influences me.

4. What do you try to capture and depict in the musicians you paint and which features must they have to be portrayed by you?

  Difficult to say what I try to capture; for me it looks quite simple: I see an interesting jazz or

  blues picture and ‘voila’ I just want to start painting ! I guess it is similar to walking down the street and passing an attractive woman; , you turn your head and think: “wow, there could be something nice happening.”

  For me a photo that I use as inspiration has to strike me; if not I will never start painting;

  sometimes I get asked to paint "somebody", but if I don't like or get good vibes from that photo: no way for me to paint!

  So again, a photo has to strike me; it has to be a great composition and it has to "swing"; one

  needs to feel the blues; similarly, people looking at my water colours say:

  “if you look at it, you see and ‘feel’ the musicians swinging and playing.” For that reason also,

  I only work from photos on which the jazz-blues men are animatedly performing, so no static

  official portraits or still life style!

 

5. In the section “New” of your website there are your 2009 paintings which seem slightly different from your previous production. What do they represent and how did they originate?

 

  Well, the paintings from the section "New" are not only from 2009, but a collection

  made from 2006 until 2009. They are different to previous watercolours because

  as one grows older, one becomes " looser and wilder" paying lesser attention to details. Also in

  that period I took early retirement and moved from Belgium to the South of France. I must confess, that painting for me is a very nice "Passe-Temps", however I don't paint regularly as I have

  many other interests too . One remark on a change in my painting style originates from

  my visit to the exhibition "100 Years of Jazz" in the Quai Branly Museum in Paris, where I was

  confronted with the American painter and saxophone player Larry Rivers . His painting style

  impressed and influenced my work. I feel that Rivers has a similar

  philosophy to Miles Davis: "do not play all that many notes" translating into: "do not completely

  fill all the blanks with colors" So still vivid colours but lesser paper surface used or covered!

  I will further explore that style and there I do need strong musical background support from real

  swinging jazz, for example by George Adams, Charles Mingus or Archie Shepp!

 

6. Do you normally go around Jazz and Blues clubs and venues to draw inspiration and paint “your” musicians or do you work exclusively in your studio with their music and photos?

Until now I only worked from photos and have not been able to sketch during a concert;. As I mentioned earlier, I am not a regular painter - I paint only, when inspired. One of my

  earlier countrymen Piet Klaasse, made great drawings during concerts in The Netherlands, which

  are reflected in a nice book called "Jam Session." He was really great and much admired by jazz musicians.

  I do however, visit many jazz concerts. My beloved wife Ellen, and I are both active helping

  in nearby Junas for the annual summer open air jazz festival in an ancient quarry. Last year, the festival featured Hungarian jazz musicians together with the great Archie Shepp. In 2008 we had the great pleasure to host sardinian jazz musicians such as Paolo Fresu, Antonello Salis , Rita Marcotulli

 

  During the festival we are very busy assisting with the organization and I have to rely on the professional photographers, who are

  like "birds of prey" around the musicians and to get their photos which sometimes I swap

  for one of my watercolors!

  So for me, it still comes always back to the quality of a jazz/ blues photo: if such photo strikes

  my creative soul, then it is put on a pile of photos waiting to get painted one day.

7. To end with, could you describe and explain how a van Meesche-ish painting originates and what usually characterizes it?

  It all starts with a photograph providing the right inspiration, followed by a sketch and prudent setting up of the first contours in color.

  Second stage may take place immediately or days later and that will be painting using strong and

  vivid colours combined with loud swinging jazz as background.

  Somtimes I need the color to be so strong that I paint directly from a wetted tube of paint.

  Then it is finished and often I feel exhausted.

  It may not finish up looking like a typical water colour or aquarelle-style painting, but I dont care; I was taught by my friend Cor Hak to use vivid and bright colours, very often blues and browns.

  And I will continue to do since being a non-conformist fits in with my life style!

  People like my paintings and often remark that they "hear their music and feel their performance"

  looking at it and they even buy!

  It feels great to combine photography, painting and jazz/blues music!

 

 

 

 

 

 ...

Ton

Jazz

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