“He naturally seeks to apply the methods of music to his own art. And from this results that modern desire for rhythm in painting, for mathematical, abstract construction, for repeated notes of colour, for setting colour in motion.”
Wassily Kandinsky, Concerning The Spiritual In Art, 1911
One hundred years ago, painter and art theorist Wassily Kandinsky published formal theories relating abstract painting to music. His theories likened visual elements of line, color, shape, and arrangement to musical elements of timbre, pitch, amplitude, and orchestration. Kandinsky was not interested in “visual music” nor visually interpreting music. Instead, his interest lay in developing static visual abstractions analogous to, and in conversation with, the structure, form and style of music composition. Thirty-year old new media artist Tyson Parks takes inspiration from Kandinsky’s ideas and embarks on a kind of conceptual and praxis critique of his prolific yet by now, dated theories. In one sense, Parks’ own digital paintings project continues where Kandinsky left off; Parks reinvigorates the problem of painting in an art historical context by reinventing both the tools and the process of painting using completely different means - his programmed computer software and hardware originally intended and used for electronic music-making. Parks does not come to painting as a painter of pastoral landscapes, abstract expressionism, nor anything else that we may easily recognize from having its proper place in the canon of art historical disciplines. Instead, the new media artist’s practice is approached and informed by his work and subjective position as a video artist, electronic music producer, and computer programmer.
Parks establishes an unusual set of references for his paintings, using basic tools from electronic music production which are typically used for real-time modulation of synthesis parameters, that he uses in combination with video feedback - a technique that has its place in video art history. Parks uses feedback as the intersection between the brush and the canvas it transforms. Once again, techniques which the artist has utilised in his music production is employed, as Parks modulates parameters within the video feedback network, live using low frequency oscillators, envelopes, and step sequencers, coupled with MIDI hardware controllers(painting using two hands; one to paint, while the other turns knobs or pushes faders, occasionally using an effects foot pedal!). Sampling (images instead of sounds) to create brushes that are digital readymades, are beautifully rendered obfuscated from recognition by the strokes they create. Mutually-informing realms of digital music production and digital painting are realised in gestures that instigate “attack”, “reverb”, “delay”. Digital musical terms are activated in Parks’ digital canvases in the form of visual displays of bleed, colourful fog, jagged repetition of shape and fluid-edged geometrical anomalies. They are compositions at once organic-seeming while they evoke artifice for their inherent digital nature, ultimately calling upon viewers to assess the art world’s obsession with materiality and valuing of painting.
Parks’ compositions are the complex result of experimenting with materials and crafting and mastering technique as much as any traditional painter and yet his basis for intervention is a radical departure in the context of art history. In this sense, his work resists conforming to any one particular pattern of style or format, yet he effectively culls and comments on technology and art production - re-purposing a set of tools originally from the recording studio or the club and evoking their use in a gallery setting.
In one sense, digitally-produced music is as much about distortion of data as it is about so-called ‘enhancement’. The intricacies of how various hardware and software elements correspond with one another inevitably produce different results from one attempt to the next. In much the same way, ‘mixing paint’ and creating paintings is for Parks, an experimentation with music. Here, the simple act and visual result of creating a single stroke across the canvas with various modulators and tools operating on its velocity, its cadence, its impact, and its visual gravity, is as fascinating as ever.