Visual Jazz

"Eye of the Storm" 1988 Pencil on paper 50 x 50 cm
“Eye of the Storm” 1988 Pencil on paper 50 x 50 cm

‘Eye of the Storm’, a work employing pencils, graphite for the lighter grey tones and conte for a contrasting black, initiated a new set of drawings following the exhibition at Roar 2 Studios. The Spartan approach complimented my sombre mood and was an important step in my finding a more precise sense of rhythm in design. For most of the remainder of the year, my drawings were almost devoid of colour, as I concentrated on developing my discipline. With each image came a growing sense of my method of discovery. The reward always short lived before the desire for a new success overwhelmed. Around me, life flickered and lapped at my imagination, but I was set on these closed forms. The most a subject would infiltrate was in the evoking of a feeling ignited by the irresistible swell of passionate music, or in a title spawned of poetic association. My real subject was learning the procedures of an artist, a labour of love that saw every available inch of wall space in my bedroom filled with drawings. Satisfaction in completing a work was always quickly replaced by an acute awareness of my limitations and an equally robust desire to improve with practice. Outside my window, due would accumulate on terracotta roof tops across the sprawling suburbs, life flowed, someone late for school, appointments to make, errands to run; a sequel of tyres on wet asphalt catching the morning sun as if cut from a sheet metal plate; but in the sanctuary of my bedroom a different reality emerged, a chrysalis containing the merging of spirit with paper with wide eyes, duller when anticipating the enormity of the task ahead.

Drawings from 1988
Drawings from 1988

That June, Philip and I also embraced a new collaborative form of expression with what was dubbed ‘Visual Jazz’. In essence, these were improvised thematic works, like our individual works without a score, blending our different approaches in a single work. The drawings and paintings that were to follow over the next few years represent the closest we came to a true union of spirit, and equally were the point at which our separation commenced. Looking or doing, whether my cosy reserve betrayed my pride, I just wasn’t confident enough to take the lead. Unless it was on a freshly gessoed canvas or stapled white sheet of paper. It became an unspoken rule that I make the first marks. Philip described himself as naturally inclined to an abstract expressionist approach, where automatism guided his hand in an intuitive fashion, all-be-it contained within the parameters of the highly-structured thematic method. On the other hand, I was interested in finding a rationale, where nothing happened on the page without good cause, and always belonged to a bigger vision. An abstract formation with equal content as any illusionistic representation, I needed those catacombs of thought to feel a validity of process. These early collaborations, though now blurred, remain a highlight of the journey. Under the harsh fluorescence and the eclectic audio accompaniment, a unity of purpose arose and swept through us accomplishing the same intent as our father held in teaching us to play Golf. Something shared, tasselled in themes in the hot darkness of summer with finger tips tender from holding the pastel ends, and in winter when lawns crunch under foot like hot toast and the electric blower made the workshop habitable.

"Blue Jazz with a touch of that red" 100 x 150 cm Pastel on paper
“Blue Jazz with a touch of that red” 100 x 150 cm Pastel on paper

The first Jazz collaboration came three years earlier, a father son duet in two shades of blue that remained vivid in Philip’s mind. In remembering the times, I can hear my father’s footsteps, slow and deliberate in the corridor leading to the study. The cork tiles just hard enough to register a clack when met with hard leather soles. With the swirl of a Chopin waltz and a long neck of lager, the ideas and pictures came together in studious union; this as seen through the eyes of a boy undisturbed by the transcendental difficulties of economic hardship. When my mother was compelled to bake bread, for me it was to savour that fresh out of the oven aroma, not to save a penny.

Collaboration between Peter Graham and Philip Graham 1985 pastel on paper 100 x 80 cm
Collaboration between Peter Graham and Philip Graham 1985 pastel on paper 100 x 80 cm

The creating by Philip and I of ‘Blue Jazz with a touch of that red’, was a most enjoyable experience on the whole and one that brought our collaboration closer still. As the humour in the title suggests, the work vibrates with a kind of syncopated melody held together in its hourglass configuration. My father once recounted the importance of learning to laugh with paint, to be happy, and these long earnest sessions finishing in the early hours of the morning were often augmented by periods of joviality befitting our youth. Although our two distinct approaches were clearly definable, it would take a sound knowledge of individual works to break the esoteric code and gain appreciation for the true nature of the interplay. The process was a journey, expanding my understanding of how to make a picture ‘work’ and helped accelerate my movement toward achieving a higher standard of picture making. Philip provided me with many valuable lessons at this time, as I gradually made the transition from student to colleague. The drawing’s title stemmed from the music we listened to which was to become a tradition. ‘Cranial Activity’ followed, produced over two sessions under the eaves surrounding Theatre Place, the first public performance of Visual Jazz, completed on a devastatingly hot day in December (weather not conducive to cranial activity), it shows an increasing harmony in the fusion of our techniques.

"Cranial Activity" pastel on paper 1988 150 x 80 cm
“Cranial Activity” pastel on paper 1988 150 x 80 cm
"Fountain of youth" 1989 Jazz collaboration
“Fountain of youth” 1989 Jazz collaboration
"The Red Crescent" 1990 acrylic on board 80 x 100 cm Philip and Euan Graham
“The Red Crescent” 1990 acrylic on board 80 x 100 cm Philip and Euan Graham