“I'm so visual when I sing that I guess I do want to paint a picture,” says jazz vocalist and life-long visual artist Mary Moore. “You're painting with emotional and sound brushes. You're absolutely doing that.”
Moore's painted pictures – in acrylic and sound – are featured at GigSpace this month. She is exhibiting seventeen jazz paintings in GigSpace's art gallery, and singing original jazz compositions in a concert with her quintet on Friday, November 27. Both the art show and the concert mark her progress in overcoming artistic challenges and developing as an artist.
While she's a relative newcomer to jazz singing, Moore had an early and easy beginning in visual art.
“I think I was born to draw. I remember drawing on the walls of my room when I was very small. I had a vision of me looking up and thinking my parents would never see it because my room was so big and the drawings were so small. But they did see it. But then they bought me paper. Lots of paper,” she laughed.
Today, Moore has decades of experience as a professional graphic designer/illustrator and instructor.
“Children's books. Different applications. Some commercial applications. Technical illustration. And then everything else under the sun. Graphic design. Publications. Websites. I do it all,” she says.
She has similarly broad musical interests, which have included singing choral, chamber choir, classical and “old-time music and a lot of folk-type music”. Around 2007, she was singing with the Dixieland band Souper Jazz. Then her deeper journey into jazz started. She participated in eight Ottawa JazzWorks jazz camps – and is now its current president, marketing chair, and webmaster.
“Jazz is the toughest, partly because you're almost always going to be singing alone. It's all up to you. Every piece of sound that comes out, it's yours. You're not really covered by a lot of instrumentation when you're singing. If you're singing blues and you're growling, everyone else is kind of bombastic too. You better be able to shout if you're going to sing Dixie. They all play at top volume! So you just have to cut through that and sing.
“It's a lot of fun. So definitely I'm enjoying the challenge of singing jazz.”
Evolving styles in Moore's art – and music
Jazz, which encompasses a wide variety of styles and freely embraces and incorporates elements of other music, is a harmonious match to Moore's brushwork.
“It's evolving. I'm not a stylist as a painter. Which makes me unwantable for galleries most of the time [laughing]. Because I don't produce the same thing over and over again. I just can't do it. I teach art and I think about my students and I like to explore a lot of different methods. You'll see I'm quite eclectic. And that follows right through to my music. I'm quite eclectic with the music as well.”
Her November 27 GigSpace show features “quite a few” of her original tunes, and, not surprisingly, she's excited about that. At the JazzWorks Originals concert in May 2014, Moore sang two original songs, both in the Great American Songbook mode, to extensive applause.
“Obviously I'm collaborating with other musicians, and I feel it's really important that it be our show. I organized it, but they're very important. Marylise Chauvette who is a wonderful jazz pianist – she can be very emotive on the piano – she made suggestions and I was right in with them. So we're doing two Carole King tunes and one Leonard Cohen tune, 'Bernadette'. Of course I know all those songs. I grew up with them and it's really exciting to explore them and just edge them towards jazz. That's something I really enjoy. I think Holly Cole made that absolutely famous. Her ability to jazzify anything she comes across is incredible and I love her repertoire too.
“I like standards as well, but I prefer to think of things my own way,” Moore said.
A walk through the art gallery
As we talked, Moore and I walked around the GigSpace ART Gallery to explore her own way of visual thinking. Painted musicians, some who will be recognizable to local jazz fans, animated their invented or tauntingly familiar spaces. Ranging in size from about 10x12 inches to 2x3 feet (“Go big or go home, you know?” Moore said) the acrylic paintings had a variety of textures, from gritty, to just poured, bubbly pancake batter.
“Acrylic is a funny paint. Every brush stroke just sits there when you place it on a canvas. Without texture, I sometimes don't feel it's that exciting a paint, compared to oil,” Moore said. In fact, she sometimes places sand on the canvas to give it more texture and “kind of a sparkly effect.”
We stood in front of one of her largest paintings. It's multi-layered, and full of movement with the musicians and a dancer in a bright turquoise dress expanding out of the edges of the frame.
“This one here, 'Satin Doll', is completely an illustration – I just made it up. I wanted that crowded feeling. I did a lot of research looking at vintage photos just to get the feeling of the speak-easys.”
Moore is not without a sense of humour in her work too. She laughed as she pointed out to me her placement of the unseen male partner's hand on the Doll's derrière.
As we walked past the paintings she explained how she brings together reality and her imagination.
“They're illustrative, I think. I'm not really interested in photo-realism per se. Because you guys (photographers) do that really well. I can't kill the illustrator in me. Just like I can't get rid of all the Patsy Cline [in my voice]. You are who you are. But you look at something and you say, 'I don't want to work from photographs'. I have enough in my head I just want to go with the flow, and I want to make them attractive and appealing and colourful. But I just want them to be mine.”
She continued to comment as we looked at the paintings.
“That's a remembered image of the mighty Popo. I thought he could be her drummer.”
“I got that from research. I liked the movement in it.”
“This one is an image scene on a video. I recaptured it.”
“A lot of them are just remembered images from old research, old vintage stuff.:
“Quiet nights. Tim [Bedner] and Elise [Letourneau] and their dog. I asked Elise, is it OK if I put wine in there? It's an illustration conceived from my head, basically based on their character and nothing else. That's Corcovado, that funky hill in that scene in Brazil [and referenced in the Quiet Nights]”
“What I was interested in was all the muscle. Especially in the face but even in the arm. Look at … just fabulous, you know. And the face... enjoying himself, you know. Because making music is such a muscular activity, no matter what you're doing, right? And it just feels so good in your body. Your whole body is an instrument. You're just going for it.”
While many paintings feature recognizable, and in some cases faceless, jazz musicians, the graphical elements are always important in Moore's work.
“I think one characteristic that rides through everything I do is movement. As a graphic designer, setting up the space in an interesting way – the negative spaces and the positive spaces – is absolutely imperative to me. And the hierarchy of how the eye is going to move through – it's almost more important than the subject, actually.”
It's an approach to painting that could equally apply to an appealing jazz song or concert set list.
Moving to the rest of the exhibit, we approached some of Moore's recent works and artistic challenges: abstract paintings that don't look like most of the others and were not illustrative. One painting invoked an outlined image of a guitar in autumn leaves by its hues and broken lines. A subtle, roughly torn patch of musical score is embedded in the paint. Two other paintings suggested Gordian knots of brightly coloured, plastic streamers.
Moore described the next painting: a flowing composition of thickly painted, multicoloured blocks with one interesting intersection.
“This is the most abstracty. This one here, you're supposed to find something. He ended up in the drips -- I saw a little person in there. So the rest of it is just constructed around this little shape. It's all negative painting. This is just what was there. So it's my jazz maestro. I think he's starting his orchestra and there's the music,” she explained.
Like improvisation is for many jazz musicians, abstract painting doesn't come easily to Moore.
“I quite like it. But I hardly ever do it. Every day as a graphic designer, I take a piece of white screen and I have text and images and then I put graphic shapes and I organize it all, right? And design it. Every day. And so when I get the text and I get the stuff, I sit for a minute and I think for a minute, or two, until I'm inspired and I then I just go. It's all in my head, I've been a designer for 30 years so, and then I apply my thought. I don't even thumbnail it anymore. I just do it.
“You don't want to do that here. I don't want to come up with shapes in my head. I really have to let go. I probably just need to go and not be disturbed by anything. Just do 20 of them.”
As we talked, Moore described a discussion she had with another jazz camper that relates her experience as a musician and visual artist.
“I said to him 'you are creating a whole world inside this room that wasn't there before.' And I think if you think about it that way, that's what you strive to do, to take people out of the world that they are currently in, in which we have stresses and you name it, and create a world for them. You're painting a world of sound. And that's awesome.
“In terms of inspiration, any artist, visual and musical, we have open pores all the time. You're always open. You notice things. And even if you don't use it, it informs you. It informs you and a lot of times it comes out in one form or another. It comes out in a written song – you hear that in the way that you perform it and in your visual art as well. That's nice.”
– Brett Delmage
See other stories about jazz, creative improvised music, and painting
- Where there's no smoke there's Fire - Jesse Stewart performs with the Voice of Fire
- Kate Oakley's "Hot Fusion" exhibit is inspired by "the energy of jazz"