The ability to listen is an artist's most important tool. It provides the eye a fulcrum from which perception thrives, and visual expression revels. In the work of JAMES KAMINSKI, the ear is another source of creativity: one used with consummate respect for the hum of life in every aspect. Painter, designer, collagist, interior architect, teacher, Kaminski's scope has embraced what he calls the "humanity within." And it is this very act of embracing what life shows us that is implicit in his artwork. His is a vision of complete love of the spirit, of the body and mind in concert with attention to that particular "music" one hears when creativity reaches its source. Whether restoring new life into depleted neighborhood dwellings, or inspiring students to find their true callings, Kaminski is artist as humanist. He understands that the only importance is how we connect with each other, treat each other, and give back to each other. His art erases the particular and specific; he prefers that sense of resonance art can have long after one looks at it: the bell's sound that lingers; the beauty of a form in the landscape not quite revealed but which calls us to rest there; the body's electric joy. He understands that art must also come from hard work and a commitment to its challenges. Yet, he knows that art has its own ear, and it is that which one must be guided by. Mentorship has been a key value in Kaminski's life. He has been graced with friendship and colleagues with whom he developed his art, and in whom he found support for its ideas. He pays tribute to these mentors by being one himself. And all great mentors know the art of the ear. Kaminski embraces technology -- he finds its multiplicities of connection congruent to something more spiritual and embracing than we would imagine. Indeed, he finds it exhilarating to be able to commune with nature while on his Blackberry, take a photograph of the landscape in front of him, send it to friends, and have them share what he sees. These "immediate galleries" are part and parcel of what Kaminski feels technology does at its best: it brings the world close to us, and it lets us share in it. In the right hands, with the right use, he knows that technology can help sustain an appreciation of what is visible outside of us, and implicitly, that which resides inside of us. This then, is the ear of the world that we capture, and we are graced by seeing and listening back. Kaminski helps us do both as he explores his love of all of it.
Hear the podcast interview with James Kaminski on The New Architect:
You came to design and art at a very early age. You were introduced to Marshall Fredricks when being taken to his studio. Your sister was his model. Were those visits the first of your absorption of all things artistic?
Yes, I was exposed very early to the arts, as far back as I can remember. My sister was 15 years older than me and was a very dynamic, very beautiful and a very successful entrepreneur in the restaurant industry in Oakland County, Michigan. In the 1950’s and 1960’s, she began her career working in a very prestigious restaurant/bar located close to Cranbrook Academy of Art (the world renowned art and design school (http://www.cranbookart.edu) Cranbrook, at that time, was home and think tank to many world class visionaries, artists, architects and designers including: Eero Saarinen, Carl Milles, Marshall Fredricks, Ray and Charles Eames, Harry Bertoia, and many other dynamic artists/designers of that generation. My sister became good friends with many of these artists and became a model for a few of them - Marshall Fredricks in particular who she came to be very close to over many years. His studio was near to where I grew up and my sister took me there frequently, primarily because she babysat me a lot and was proud of my early talents in drawing…lucky me! Of course, as a young child, I was not cognizant of art and design but that exposure shaped my interests. I remember bringing drawings and clay models I made to show, get advice and was praised for my work. You have to understand I was a young boy and I just thought it was a common activity for men to create large sculptures in their garages! Fredricks was an amazingly kind man, a major contrast to my father who was a Polish, blue-collar factory welder for the auto company and a heavy drinker as well. So I began to work hard on my drawings and sculpting clay, enjoying the direction and mentorship from Marshall. He was my hero as a boy. I also want to pay respect and tribute to Otto Dix, Daniel Richter, Philip Guston, Egon Schiele, Philip Glass, John Adams, and Kruder and Dorfmeister.
Your mother worked in the automobile industry; that led you to experiences in design that were significant for you. Can you discuss how this engaged you?
Yes, I was also encouraged by my mother to pursue the creative arts. My mother was working in the design and engineering department of General Motors but as the main cook in the executive design department known as the GM Tech center for 30 years. She was not a designer. I want to clarify that. However, I did grow up going to work with my mother and was exposed to the auto design department and the work of many of their greatest designers. My mother was an extremely popular and beautiful woman who was proud of her son’s drawing abilities. So I spent many weekend afternoons getting rides in the experimental futuristic auto prototypes and visiting the designer’s studios there. Mind you, this was a highly secure and secret area. I had an amazing collection of hand-painted illustrations of cars given to me as gifts by several of the artists and they were pinned all over my room as a child. Naturally, drawing cars and making models fascinated me. I was a very shy child and was not very popular at school so I hid behind my talents in art. I was the kid who won all the awards and gold stars on all my art projects in elementary school and through high school - constantly getting praise from my teachers.
When did you first decide to go to art school? Was it a given that you would study art, rather than something else at first?
My interest in art grew and led me to study it in college. General Motors pursued me to study in design and offered me a position at 17 years old, which I accepted and worked there for one year. But, it was 1969 and the counter-culture movement was calling, so off I went to Woodstock and fell deep into the rock and roll, artist, and hippie lifestyle instead. I managed to get out of the war in Vietnam through a low lottery number and took to the road instead. I hitchhiked out west. My destination? California. My travels brought me to the cities of Jerome and Sedona in Arizona where I ended up in a hippie artist commune in the desert. There, I was exposed to several prominent artists and did some understudy work with them on their ranch estates. I was also introduced to Pablo Solari, the architect/visionary behind the world-renowned Arcosanti project. I then became fascinated by alternative design and architecture. I continued my journey visiting several artist communes and ended up in the Haight Ashbury district of San Francisco and Monterey where I stayed and absorbed the artist, hippie lifestyle by pawning my drawings and artwork for money on the streets. That year, I received a full grant scholarship to study art back in Detroit at Wayne State University (located in the heart of the city). I studied painting and drawing and received a BFA in fine arts. I became entrenched in the cultural lifestyle of the Cass corridor, Detroit’s underground cultural community of the 60s and 70s. It was here that I mingled with artists, musicians, poets and radicals and many other cultural, rock and roll icons of the day as Detroit was known as the Mecca for music (hence Motown).
You were an early proponent of bringing back neighborhoods, “by design” -- especially in Detroit, where there was a deep need of new vision of the urban environment. What opportunities did you pursue in this work?
I also entered studies in the interior architecture program with renowned architect, John Hillberry that at the time was the first and only program in the country that had a concentration on restoration and the adaptive reuse of old buildings. Even in the 1970’s, Detroit had been rapidly deteriorating. Urban blight had taken its toll as the neighboring suburbs grew and prospered. The city that was once referred to as the “Paris of the Midwest” was slowly slipping into ruins. During my last year of college, I restored my first building at 23 years old and formed a communal art gallery along with other young artists, called “The Artist Guild of Detroit”. It was located in the shadow of General Motor’s world headquarters. I received backing from Rodger Smith, president of GM and other area patrons and also received several awards including a beautification award from the mayor of the Detroit. The local press referred to me as a young urban pioneer. Needless to say, I impressed my professors at the university for my efforts and scored great grades. I also enhanced my restoration skills by living with various architecture professors in return for free room and board; I helped with the architectural restoration of their historical mansions located in the heart of Detroit’s once affluent neighborhoods. My studies in art, art history and design/ craft skills paved the way towards my career in interior design and restoration in the years to come.
What was the first moment that you realized you could be a designer and artist? How did you decide to pursue that as a career?
I decided to go to graduate school in 1975 to continue my art studies at the University of Minnesota. I was also married that year and my wife and I decided to move to Minneapolis and continue our careers. She was in heart research and I was attending classes - working in my studio. I failed to connect with the art department at University of Minnesota due to my background in the urban Detroit art scene. They were very conservative and I was always pushing for new forms of expression. I remember my first project for classes there, where I stretched bolts of fabric across the frozen sections of the Mississippi River. I filmed the fabric movements on video in the frigid subzero wind while playing the music of Phillip Glass from my car - this was 1977. Needless to say, my professors didn’t understand my direction. Feeling restricted, I left the department and set out to make a living with my art. I was soon featured in the Minnesota Museum of Art in a national art competition and started to create a name for myself there. I became friends with Sidney Simon, the chairman of the art department at the University of Minnesota, through my wife’s friends in the University research departments. Sidney was 70 years old and lived an amazing career in art and art history, a true genius. He introduced me to friends at the Walker Center for the Arts where I had the opportunity to meet such artists as Frank Gehry, Louise Nevelson, and Philip Guston. I dove deep into my studies and began to get commissions from connections I had made through my association with Mr. Simon. I worked with the mayors of both St. Paul and Minneapolis on creative projects and designing sets for charity events. I knew then I could make a career by using my artistic talents.
What were the biggest challenges to reconstructing urban environments? Did you have government buy-in and its support?
My actual work in urban design surfaced in the 1980’s with my studio located in Pontiac, Michigan, which was nearly abandoned due to urban blight and suburban sprawl. At this time, I was in the hospitality design business working on major restaurant chains around the metro Detroit area. It was my involvement in the city of Pontiac that got me interested in rural/urban environments. My focus was in the small historical towns and villages surrounding the metro Detroit area. Over the years, the Michigan State expressway systems began detouring travelers away from these small towns and devastated their local economies. Highways that once brought travelers and vacationing tourists to these villages now grew empty. So I became a design consultant through local rural development grants awarded to these towns by state development funds. I advised and helped develop “mom and pop” businesses by creating artistic and aesthetic designs for their storefronts and interiors to attract attention from weekend travelers. Also, at the time, I had a graphic design, signage, neon and awning company. So, thus began a 25-year career working on various small town projects. I opened a gallery/restaurant/café in a small village in mid- Michigan. Having been to Europe, I decided to create a unique, European-styled scene that gained major press and attention from tourists statewide. Slowly, other young progressive businesses moved in and the town prospered once again. I became involved in local politics and began getting into more aggressive projects such as design for schools, community centers, retail shops, pubs and restaurants. I trained local craftsmen to work with fabricating my designs and employed students as apprentices. I received several local beautification awards as well. I learned quickly that one person’s creative vision and perseverance could make a tremendously positive impact on a community and its economy. As my reputation grew, I attracted major entrepreneurs and began to travel extensively by working on Hotel restoration and design primarily in Florida, Maryland and Texas.
How did you first come to the Great Lakes landscape paintings? They are beautiful and mysterious. They seem to embody both an impasto technique as well as a soft watercolor fluidity that is energized. The light in them is completely alive. Were these plein air works?
Thank you I am glad you enjoy them. I have spent a great deal of time on the shorelines of the great lakes region surrounding Michigan and areas bordering Wisconsin. I do on occasion pack my paints and camera in a backpack and hike or mountain bike for days on end exploring the endless compositions of the rock formations and light and shadow. It is abstraction of nature in its purest form. I am not concerned with pretty pictures as much as I am capturing or translating the truth of what I see, feel and hear. I become totally consumed by the experience. I have a studio where I stay and work in Wisconsin located on the cliffs of Lake Michigan. Accessibility to the beaches and cliffs are available to me at any given season or time of day to roam and study. I am fascinated by the sharp extreme austerity of some of these areas, particularly the dune regions where I find vast rolling valleys of sand, rock and water. I find a sense of uncomplicated presence there, as though life stands still. There is very little, if any, reference to vegetation, trees or man-made objects. The shadows and sun-bleached colors morph subtly as there is luminosity that emanates from within and without. I see my brush strokes as steps leading the viewer from near to far. As a result, people have told me that as they stare at my landscapes they can “become lost inside’. That is why, in many cases, I refrain from any visual references other than the beauty of the terrain as it is. Once I place an image like a tree for instance, the painting is now about the tree, since now it becomes a reference point. . I tend to strive for that effect in all my painting, leaving the observer the opportunity to see what they see ….I am just the conduit channeling the vision I have experienced. Contrary to impasto approach, I rely on painting very thin veils of oil glazes in all my work. I also prepare my surface to a high gloss surface. Unlike watercolor, which absorbs into the surface, I manipulate the oils through direct aggressive brushstrokes, to create a flow as the colors blend and skim across the surface of my canvas. The density of color is then gauged upon application of additional coats, which require a 24-hour cure time between each of them. In essence it’s the basis of classical oil painting or egg tempera using thin minute layers applied layer on upon layer with each tone being affected by its under tone, much like layering thin colored glass lenses. I tend to work in a two- to three-layered approach to my work as the colors can become deadened after too many layers and I lose the sense of luminosity I strive for. I have a major respect for the Hudson River school of painters from the late 19th and early 20th century, particularly Albert Bierstadt and Fredric Church. I also admire the watercolor techniques of Winslow Homer, John Singer Sargent and also the scenic land compositions of Thomas Hart Benton and Grant Wood to name a few.
Landscape painting has a long and wide art historical reach. Your work has a sense of Eastern influences: almost akin to the Japanese scroll landscapes. Was this an inspiration?
I attribute my techniques to my early (pre-computer era) years as a medical illustrator and graphic artist and the discipline required. Of course, I have an immense appreciation for Asian art and my work has been interpreted as Asian influenced many times. I respect their masterful ability to interpret nature in its linear form. I must say, however, it’s an unconscious subliminal interpretation that emerges when I paint. I believe it’s simply due to my love and appreciation for the brushstroke, which is reminiscent of Asian calligraphy or watercolors. All my work requires a focus on the direction and power of the brushstroke. I strive for a ‘clear direct bull’s-eye’ approach to my subject matter. The fluidity of one stroke relates and reacts to another creating a rhythm. Once I apply a stroke of paint there is no turning back and the painting begins its journey. Once a stroke has dried I build from there, much like watercolor or calligraphy as seen in ancient scrolls or silk paintings. In addition to my landscapes I have recently approached the subject of a ‘micro’ interpretation of plant life, virus, bacteria and small organisms. I am fascinated by the endless formations and color challenges of the microscopic realm from a purely fantasy perspective.
Your collage work has a quality of jazz to it: that sort of hum that your work seems to give off. Music is obviously a big connection in your inspiration. What is your collage process and how were you first attracted to it as a medium? Who are some of your favorite artists in this genre? What does collage as a medium of expression enable you to do that other mediums do not, in terms of your visual ideas?
Well, I am of course a a fan of collage works by Romare Bearden and his influence on the urban art scene of the mid 20th century. I also have a connection with the collage work of Robert Motherwell, Gerard Richter, Joseph Cornell, and early Julian Schnabel to name a few. Yes, I am deeply fused with music in my work as it becomes a soundtrack to what I am seeing in my mind's eye. My current collaboration with Detroit jazz musician, Richard Branch is pushing my work towards new challenges in forms of ‘musical collage’. Exploring the non-literal language between art forms much like a band except its composed of a painter and jazz sax musician. Collage offers an assemblage approach towards constructing an image much like sculpture. There is a vast array of color that paper, textiles, vinyl, veneer and cardboard can offer towards a palette. Much like my painting I again use my knife blade to cut in a precise flowing, direct manner. It can also result in a self-matched chess game since the composition possibilities are infinite until a final decision is made. As far as materials I am attracted to, I am partial towards vintage and distressed paper/fabric that has been water stained, mold damaged, or sun bleached. I also employ aged printed materials such as lithographs, intaglio or wallpaper as well as large paper billboard signage.
Stopping to look and ‘being in the ‘now’; becoming the observer. Information is hammering us minute-by-minute from the clouds, TVs, cell phones, streaming media, etc. When I stop to take the time to look and silence the visual and auditory noise, that simple act of “seeing” produces the stimuli I require as an artist. My training and talent is deeply ingrained and I rely on my gut instinct when I paint. I also think most artists would be lying if we said we didn’t also receive reinforcement from those in our lives who we interact with, professionally or socially- after all, we are human. But I think the primary stimulus that keeps me returning to the creative process is seeing the contextual splendor that surrounds us each day, whether it is being in the presence of nature or walking through a city. I try to absorb it all.
You taught and mentored many students. What are you finding that most students are seeking right now? How has technology changed their work, their vision, or their expectations? How valuable do you think an art or design education is?
A degree can either be a springboard to continue your life work or it can be just a piece of paper. It all rests on your own drive and ambition to accomplish your vision for the world around you. I am extremely disappointed by the current educational system -- especially how the system teaches art. The education system has to focus on developing creative thinkers and stop teaching the idea that art is simply creating pretty pictures. Students need to be empowered by their educational mentors to think of creative ways to change the world and, more importantly, help prepare and equip them for the real world with the tools to accomplish their creative visions. Teaching student’s art and how to think creatively has nothing to do with what grade they receive but more with what skills the student has been given to better visualize, interpret, and execute their ideas proficiently. We need to help students set realistic goals. I meet so many young students with big degrees and am disappointed when I see they have no practical skills. Sure they can recite theory and may have a creative portfolio but they have no idea how to survive in the real world…. especially in the arts. I met a young woman who had her masters in design, working for a major design chain, offering free design consultation and she was miserable with her job. She indicated she was thinking of getting a PhD asked if she knew how to create anything with her hands? She said "No, I have no degree in interior design and I don’t belong to ASID. Despite this, I have been responsible for more than 400 million dollars worth of creative project investments in my career, and on top of that, I have never been asked to show my diploma. Not once. I attribute this fact to my passion to create and my knowledge of art history, craftsman skills, multi-tasking, consistently having a “hands on approach” to life as well as having the common sense to understand and respect the budgetary needs of the client." Once again, 21st century education is still based on 20th century methods of teaching. It’s profitable for the universities to continue to spill out students with art and design degrees based on antiquated course agendas - yet they offer no practical skills to their students. The challenge for a 21st century artist/designer is figuring out how to develop a skill that is unique and diverse. I have stressed to the student’s I have mentored over the years that they will need to be truly passionate in what they create to truly make it in the arts. They will need to work hard to live a decent life as an artist and survive in such a competitive environment.
If a student asked you for real-world advice, what would you say to them, from your perspective of a long and successful life in art and design?
First, I don’t think it helps anybody to make any vocational choice blindly. To be a successful artist/designer requires both interest and creative ability. And by creative ability, I don’t mean something innate - I’m talking about learned proficiency, which is a requirement regardless of how much “talent” they’re starting with. The first question they would need to answer (with as much honesty as they can muster) is whether or not their interest in the arts is substantive enough to take the risks associated with it to make it a vocational career goal. If so, then the second question is whether or not they can acquire and maintain the self-motivation and diligence necessary to develop the proficiencies they’ll need to survive in a highly competitive, international field. Students have to understand that self-discipline is needed to achieve anything – it needs to be self-actualized and come from within. A successful student in the arts will eventually be working towards the recognition of the cultural elite or solving problems for the world’s social and economic problems. I chose to equip myself with a multitude of skills to deal with any creative challenge. A solid education in art and art history is essential to understand your place as an artist and what has been accomplished in history. Develop a basic knowledge and skill in carpentry, welding, electrical, masonry, painting and horticulture. Learn to work the tools of creation. Become proficient at drafting and space planning in order to translate your ideas professionally. Pursue classical training in painting, sculpture and other artistic mediums. Understand film, graphic arts, the decorative arts, and photography. Learn and respect the power of the media and technology. Learn to let go of the ego, which can assassinate creativity. The power of the ego, that doubting Thomas, can lead you nowhere in the arts. It is all about right-minded openness to new possibilities and creativity. This is the 21st century and we must leave the mentality of the 20th century behind. Taking chances and freedom from judgment will open your consciousness to new ideas. It has to come from within and it has to be a continual life process….it is a lot of work.
Your figures have a surging energy to them – visually, and in the way you actually paint them. Interestingly, it seems you have captured not only the internal spiritual music – the literal breath and blood – but also the sense that we are “wired”. It’s a nod to technology, and yet a dismissal of it. Can you discuss this?
As participants and recipients of the artistic process, we’re not meant to be passive and inert, but to be active and engaged in the process. I believe my best work energizes or provokes people to personally interact with the information - similar to what might happen between two people during a stimulating conversation. When I travel to the city or out in the woods typing on my blackberry, I’m fascinated by the multiple modes of communication I have at hand. I can vocally communicate with the person nearest me, I can then type something and click “reply”, I can answer a ringing cell phone, stroll the lake shore, finish a rum raisin roll and sip some coffee, then return to the vocal conversation or continue with the email thread I started with the earlier “reply”. I’m fascinated by that variability and mobility in communication that technology offers. Sure, there are times when I need to shut it all down and simply engage in silence and the creative process. But the solidarity in communication and social networking seems to be now built into the human character. That variability in communication is now a part of our spiritual makeup. The technological enabling of solidarity, human spirit, and communality among us is a theme in many of my figurative works. The woven wires of both neural, electronic networking and the impact of that communication have had an affect on all of us in ways we don’t fully understand yet. As enticing as it is, the uncertainty is staggering. We have become pixilated. I’m still old school enough to believe that the best forms of communication occur when I can understand the implications of what I’ve created or communicated and that the outcome I expected actually occurred. The fact that you’ve observed that “wiring” in my work indicates that the expected outcome was communicated. That’s a very satisfying outcome for me and I’m thankful we were able to actively share in that communication process. That’s what I strive for as an artist whether I’m working with oils, cameras, or clay.Today’s communication environment is more multidisciplinary than ever before and that kind of environment is exciting to me as an artist, as a teacher and as a learner. I love the idea of broadening art to include the many different ways we communicate. The experience of observing art shouldn’t be confined exclusively to museum visitations. So, in response to whether this is a nod to technology and a dismissal of it - sure! My art work is not going to help people acquire the technological skills needed to reprogram their computers or cell phones, but there is intent to convey my fascination and struggle of modern man and the impact technology may have on the human spirit. I believe there has been a spiritual outcome from the new forms of media. I just hope that our minds can continue to download the immense data being bombarded at us daily. The challenge, I wonder, is if we can handle the technology and still experience the inspiration needed to preserve and enhance the creative human spirit.
Of painting, design, and architecture, which do you find yourself closest to?
My project history allowed me to think on my feet and wear many hats and take chances. Over the years I developed several skills that were unique to me, myself. My art/mural work and hand wall finishes combined with my knowledge of color and art history formed me a special niche in the design industry. My wall designs and artwork brought me into high-end residential design as well as hundreds of commercial projects. I was commonly referred to as Dr. Color. I love to work the color balance within a home or business treating them as an empty canvas. I fused 20th century modern painting techniques with European style. I also became an antiquities dealer restoring architectural antiques and creating furnishings and props. I employed some of the area's finest craftsman and welders to form a specialty design/consultation business, which lasted 15 years until recently. I worked on homes from Sunset Strip, LA and San Francisco, to some of the finest homes in Michigan. I was also a full time consultant to one of the finest kitchen design companies in the nation, which allowed me to work on some cutting edge multi-million dollar real estate projects. Basically, I was reduced to me, myself and my suitcase of paints and brushes. I enjoy the travel, diversity and the artistic challenges.
Currently I am focused and working in my studio on a series of new paintings and sculpture. I have also teamed up with an extremely talented jazz musician from Detroit, Richard Branch [see "The Luminous Ear Project" below], and we are working on a series of ‘art fusion’ projects together. We are exploring a spontaneous, free style approach to how a musician and a painter can communicate to each other and interpret each other through creative, non-rehearsed, non verbal, artistic communication and the language that develops. I have also turned my attention towards working with the community and helping people who have talents and who may not have the means towards a higher education. I enjoy working with everyday people who have amazing skills, yet are intimidated to try new venues in their lives. The economy has taken its toll on many people. I am helping to mentor their ideas and empower them with support and exploring possibilities. With my extensive background, I plan to develop small cottage industries based on exciting new ideas in business. With this concept, I have formed a non-denominational, non-profit corp. along with my friend and associate, Reverend Karl Larson, called ‘The Spiritual Health Network’. His particular focus has been working with people who may have been or are facing, life changing challenges and the amazing possibilities the human spirit can endure and to revive. He is currently working with men who have been sexually molested as children and conducts sessions helping with closure theses issues. He also works along with local hospitals in coaching cancer patients and teaching stress free lifestyle with the goal to help them with their journey towards possible recovery.
THE LUMINOUS EAR PROJECT
My colleague and friend James Kaminski and I have embarked on an art fusion project called the Luminous Ear Project, in which we fuse his paintings and photography with my musical compositions with the intent of creating a Gestalt-type effect. With our end result, we hope to stimulate a form-generating capability of our auditory and visual senses, such that each part of the project becomes a complete form in its entirety.
Rather than just assembling a collage of paintings, photography and sounds, we’re trying to bring all of these elements together into a unified, connected construct. In order to do this, we’re relying on a methodology. The method is still in its infancy and we’re expanding it with each successive effort. First, for each part of the Luminous Ear Project we select Jim’s existing works or he creates new ones that satisfy our concept of visual and affective homogeneity. For example, part one of the Luminous Ear Project is titled “Layered Marmalade” because each of the paintings and photos evoke a fluid, gelling, almost dissolving type of contextual effect, which lends a fluid mobility to the works. That marmalade-like fluidity is the source of homogeneity among all the paintings and photos in Part 1. Then, in the second stage of the method, music is composed that provides a related acoustic feel. For example, in Part One, I strove to create music that contained a flowing, melting, gelling effect similar to Jim's art, where sounds dissolve into each other.
For Part Two of the Luminous Ear Project, "Reed Species”, a method of obtaining homogeneity similar to that found in Part One was again employed. Visual homogeneity was provided by a stroke technique that James uses in some paintings that creates the appearance of various types of reeds. Many of his figural paintings rely on that technique. Reeds are intertwined to generate an almost technical transmission message: perhaps as reed fields of communication bands, or psychophysical bands. In other paintings, reeds are used as a type of distance-scaling technique: the luminosity absorbed or radiating from the reeds to capture distance, bringing the viewer “inside” to follow the ladders of reeded light into the unknown. Jim's "Landscape with the Birds" is an example of that effect. Because a multitude of reeds are used for a variety of purposes, the musical aspect of this piece relied on a variety of both acoustic and digital reed instruments, which utilize several types of synthetic and cane reeds. The music was created to convey the technical communication inherent in James’ figural works while trying to capture the mystery of the "reeded walk into the cosmic unknown" that some of his landscapes seem to convey.
In summary, the Luminous Ear Project is an attempt to fuse together both visual and auditory stimuli into a single form. This is done by working within a method of homogeneous content specific to each part, using ears to look, and eyes to listen. Jim and I hope that the affective stimulus produced by the visual art is similar to that produced by the music. As the Luminous Ear Project unfolds further, we will continue building on the method, merging musical structure to the content and contextual structure of visual art. -- RICHARD BRANCH FEBRUARY 2011
Richard Branch worked as a psychometrist for the United States Department of Defense for 24 years, a position from which he recently retired. He also worked as a special education teacher in the areas of learning disabilities and mental and emotional impairments for eight years before returning to graduate school to study quantitative research methods and psychometrics. He developed a love for clarinet, saxophone and jazz at an early age and has studied music both on his own and with private teachers for many years. He has been working with James Kaminski on the Luminous Ear Project since October 2010.
To hear and see The Luminous Ear project: click on the links below:
Pt. 1: LAYERED MARMELADE
Pt. 2: REED SPECIES:
All images copyright JAMES KAMINSKI, 2011. Used with kind permission of the artist.
Images, top to bottom: "Monks", "Blue Abstract", "Black and Gold", "Focus", "Root", "Beaver Dam", "Landscape I", "Grey Landscape", Landscape/Cruciform", "Red Record Collage", "Red/Black Collage", "Strings", "Pop Indian", "Ochre", "Through the Past Darkly", "Morph", "Red Profile", "Figure I", "Orange/Red Portrait", "November Marshland", "Quebec", "Landscape with Birds."