Portrait of Errollyn Wallen, composer, series


When I first heard a recording of Errollyn Wallen's music, I immediately found it absolutely arresting and haunting. Later, when I had the opportunity to go to one of her live concerts, the exciting, creative imagination and originality of Errollyn's music, combined with her vibrant personality and presence as a performer suggested to me that this would make a wonderful subject for a series of paintings. As Errollyn is composer, musician and performer, the series aimed to reflect these different facets of her work. Studies from the sittings were used to build towards the finished paintings, which explore variously the public persona of the performer, and the creativity and interior world of the composer.

In the 'Soundscape' portrait, I wanted to create an 'otherwordly' setting of the imagination, inspired by pieces of Errollyn's music. The light falling on the composer emanates from this unique, 'interior' landscape. Creativity is portrayed as the energetic force permeating the painting, flowing through it, interweaving colours. The soundscape-landscape is a visual metaphor, inspired by the fluidity and limpid beauty of the music, the multi-faceted and eclectic mix of classical and contemporary – recognising no boundaries within music -a resonance of the music and poetry that inspired it. Several of Errollyn's songs were particularly significant sources of inspiration for this painting.

I was also very interested to paint some performance studies of Errollyn playing the piano. The paintings which resulted are quite different in mood. 'Grand variations' explores the absorption and intense concentration of a musician playing and the dramatic power of the music to communicate. 'Grace notes' glimpses a quieter world, in which the performer draws us in to listen, holds our attention in a binding spell, transports the listener.

By the very nature of the process of painting, the slow layering of colours, and portraiture in particular, where sittings take place over a period of several months, each painting is an amalgam of innumerable observations, woven together into the final image. The performance paintings become, curiously and paradoxically, symbolic artefacts of the ephemeral but extremely powerful experience of live musical performance. A distillation of many moments, they attempt to capture and convey the feeling of the audience's involvement, of being drawn in by the performer , to experience the excitement of the music, the shared response of audience and performer to the moment of stillness when the audience almost dares not breathe, held by a moment of sheer musical beauty.

Gill Robinson
Steinway Hall 2011