The last day of the 2015 Maui Open Studios (MOS) saw a different kind of exhibition.
Live orchestral music filled UHMC’s Heona Art Building on Sunday, Feb. 22, while nine artists painted on eight large (24-inch by 30-inch) canvases around an ensemble of four digital pianos. For more than an hour, the four pianists produced their own improvisations in their debut public performance as part of the new one-credit course, MUS203: Instrumental Ensemble. It was a first-time experience for everyone present.
MOS founder Carolyn Quan filmed and photographed the event. “By adding a musical element in the way that UHMC did this past MOS event, I think that the experience for visitors is enhanced. Visitors were able to stimulate their eyes, as well as their ears in one place,” she said. “Creative energy comes in many forms… and by adding the painting improvisation to the music, the whole room turned into a live piece of performance art.”
As an artist, Quan has seen planned music paired with live art, but not improvised music and art. “Music can definitely move your spirit and your soul; and because of this, the painters were surely influenced by what they were hearing and absorbing from the music,” she said. “It created a mood—and anything that an artist is feeling internally is going to ultimately come out externally.”
It was also the first time the four musicians witnessed artists paint from scratch while they played. “Prior to the show, I was not sure what to expect,” said Pekelo Petersen, who doubled as percussionist and pianist. “But once I arrived, I felt a relaxed and creative energy throughout the room. While playing music, I felt a spontaneous and creative energy, and I think that the artists were feeding off of that energy. It was a very interesting experience.”
The four-person ensemble began with its own “white key improvisation,” with Petersen giving a bass octave ostinato that was soon joined by Trevor Dickson, who also wrote a composition for the ensemble (to be premiered at a later date). Cy Leal, who accompanies a piano class at UH Maui College, listened and then added his own harmony to the ensemble. Other improvisations included black-key on a popular Chinese love song, “Ni Ze Me Shuo,” which was appropriate for the Chinese New Year. There were also variations on Pachelbel’s “Canon in D” and the main theme from the film “Inception.” Each improvisation lasted around 10 to 15 minutes. The ensemble broke momentarily from improvising to take turns playing a medley of children’s songs for the two girls who shared a canvas.
As Leal played an arrangement of “Let It Go,” which he performed in a Fall 2014 class recital, he could hear the girls sing the lyrics verbatim while they painted.
Malorie Arisumi, an art student, led two other art students to recreate a scene of bamboo forest on bright yellow background. “This was my first experiencing painting to live music,” she said. “The live music created a higher level of positive energy in the room for artists to work with. The art room was filled with a creative energy that in turn helped us create art [and] it seemed that the combined art and music students shared the same spirit and creative energy and was able to feed off one another.”
Arisumi said she loved to paint in grade school, but stopped for 30 years while she raised three children. As soon as her youngest graduated from high school, she took out her brush and started painting. “I can’t paint fast enough, I have many pieces in my head just waiting to be put on canvas,” she said. “It is such a joy to learn from Mike Takemoto and to be around so many students that have the same interest and we stand side-by-side creating art.”
Only one artist painted anything remotely related to music. Ray Hinojosa created a giant treble clef and then proceeded to add color around it. “Painting to live music is very different from having the radio or recorded music as background music,” he said. “Mike [Takemoto] always has something on the small radio in the classroom, but the music goes into one ear and out the other. Live music comes into me and stays there.”
What was so unique about this event? Most artists paint alone. Hardly anyone paints to live music. Similarly, musicians rarely perform in an art studio—let alone to artists at work.
Arisumi summed it up nicely, “I do feel that art and music go together as both tap into an individual’s creative process. I do often paint alone, but it was so inspiring to be around so many students both creating music and artwork.”
In its fifth year running, MOS is the first islandwide event of its kind in Hawai‘i. No other island has such a broad array of exhibits. Quan expected visitors to get a “fuller, more inspired artistic experience [and] a sense of community amongst all of the arts.”
To see a video of this event, visit https://www.facebook.com/MauiOpenStudios.
All photos courtesy of Carolyn Quan.