Notations on Scales and Measures




Read a recent interview with Betsy on Lynette Haggard's blog


My paintings have always been created in deep connection to my classical piano practice. The two feed one another. In fact, time at the keyboard everyday is as much of a foundation to my work as life-drawing is to a figurative painter.


This body of paintings, “Scales and Measures” deals directly with that relationship.
John Cage’s 1968 “Notations” was a collection of musical scores by Avant-Garde musicians where the scores were to serve as visual art.


Around 1890, Claude Debussy wrote to Paul Dukas, that he strived for a kind of music that would enable listeners to escape from themselves, to feel that “for a moment they had been dreaming of an imaginary country.”


Rothko (who always dreamed of his home land) reportedly said he wanted to paint the place where music lived. He under-painted in tempera to achieve, according to Rothko, a shifting quality in the paint akin to vibrato or tremolo.


In the late 19th century Paris, Impressionism opened to Symbolism under the Fin de Siecle movement. Symbolists replaced the rendering of dappled-lit reality for the conveyance of the feeling of the place. Within this time, Asian woodblock prints became a novel collectible among painters and musicians. Hiroshige’s and Hokusai’s handling of calligraphic line and omission of unnecessary content inspired the symbolists to make music and art from a similar discernment.


Whistler explored this relationship within his works titled, for example, "Nocturne in Black and Gold: The Falling Rocket."


Claude Debussy entitled his paintings “Images” with the goal of creating “aural illusions.” What I am doing is the inverse of that.  I’m exploring the feeling of a musical line and scales, framed within measures - their shifting dynamics of frisson, rubato, stuccato, glissandi, phrasing, and alike. Titles like “Variation on Hovhaness’s Spirit of the Trees” convey the piece of music considered within the completion of each respective painting. The Bagatelles are small, impromptu studies of the contour of line, which inform the larger paintings.


Each painting is allusive to the musical idea because, as Stephane Mallarme’ wrote “To name an object is to suppress three-quarters of the pleasure of a poem…to suggest, herein lies the dream.”


-Betsy Eby
Wheaton Island, ME