Overview

The exhibition Blue Notes presents new works from Oliver Beer’s acclaimed Resonance Paintings series, the culmination of a decade-long exploration of sound. This most recent body of paintings expresses what the artist calls ‘the intrinsic relationship between physical form and musical harmony’. 

The exhibition Blue Notes presents new works from Oliver Beer’s acclaimed Resonance Paintings series, the culmination of a decade-long exploration of sound. This most recent body of paintings expresses what the artist calls ‘the intrinsic relationship between physical form and musical harmony’. 

By placing a loudspeaker beneath a horizontally-oriented canvas that has been scattered with very fine, dry pigment, Beer reveals the forms of musical harmonies. These appear on the surface of the canvas in undulating, geometric patterns of blue and white as the vibrations of the sound waves in the air move the pigment: ‘The pigment is so fine that it moves with the air and takes on the shape of the sound. And so, it lets me paint with music. I can use sound as my paintbrush.’

This series has its origins in his early experiments from 2009, when he first placed a handful of flour on a vibrating Irish drum and discovered the patterns formed by sound waves. ‘When I’m composing the pictures, you can see the harmony appear out of thin air, and then you very quickly learn how to create specific shapes and gestures from the musical harmonies,’ explains the artist. ‘I’ve always perceived the shape of sound and the relationship between visual forms and music – and with this body of work I've been able to deepen this experience, to make music visible and paint with sound.’

The blue colour of the works, also referenced in the title of the exhibition, was inspired by a blue and white vessel that the artist found on a shelf in his grandmother’s house. Intrigued, the artist followed the history of cobalt oxide blue, discovering its pervasive past: ‘It’s so universal, you find this blue and white in almost every single country around the world, as if the colour were itself contagiously appealing. I followed the journey of that colour on my grandmother’s shelf all the way back through commercial and colonial routes, through the Portuguese, Dutch, British empires; through Japan, Korea and China, and ultimately back to Iran where it was first invented. Following the journey of colour tells a story of commerce and colonialism, as well as cultural variation and reinterpretation of that colour.’ 

All works in the exhibition were made with the same blue pigment and using only sound to touch the canvas. Beer’s diverse paintings elicit a myriad of different subtle shades. They also reveal a variety of patterns and shapes generated by the sound waves, that behave very differently according to the harmonies that Beer works with, at times taking on almost figurative forms. 

With the Resonance Paintings series, Beer works as a painter with musical geometries to create dense and complex layered works that draw inspiration from personal memories, as well as they reference historical narratives, the history of music and the legacies of minimal, conceptual and abstract painting.

I knew I was making the show for Salzburg, which is this incredible musical city. It’s a city that plays in important role in the genealogy of contemporary music. I mean that certain musical ideas born in Salzburg have become almost ubiquitous as they have evolved through their influence and variations over the decades and centuries. This idea of variation and evolution in music is also incredibly important in visual art. And that’s really what this show is like: an attempt to explore variation at the meeting point of visual art and music. I hope that when people see the paintings, they will feel the music that’s made them. — Oliver Beer

 

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