Feb 19th 2019

Musicians in word and art: Portraiture and caricatures: Conductors, pianists, composers by Michael Johnson

by Mary L. Tabor

Mary L. Tabor worked most of her life so that one day she would be able to write full-time. She quit her corporate job when she was 50, put on a backpack and hiking boots to trudge across campus with folks more than half her age. She’s the author of the novel Who by Fire, the memoir (Re)Making Love: a sex after sixty story and the collection of connected short stories The Woman Who Never Cooked. She’s a born and bred liberal who writes lyric essays on the arts for one of the most conservative papers in the country and she hosts a show interviewing authors on Rare Bird Radio. In the picture Mary L.Tabor

 

Outstanding, experienced journalist Michael Johnson, whose articles, often accompanied by his striking portraits, has now brought his love of music and of pen, ink, gouache and watercolor to create a study of remarkable insight, strong opinions and beauty in this gorgeous book. Written in both French and English the brief descriptions of musicians he has met, studied, interviewed are accompanied by distinctive portraits that, as his title suggests, some may be caricatures. I argue that the author/artist has created insightful studies of the human face engaged in the pursuit of music. The only caricature is his own self-deprecating, slyly wry self-portrait that opens the book—and it is worth the book’s purchase on its own. 

As a resident of Bordeaux, Johnson chose many of the luminaries who have come to his city where he has gone back stage to draw them. Others have taken hold of him with their style, their panache, their originality. Here’s a brief selection of my favorites: 

Paul Daniel, conductor, whose wit and charm Johnson describes and then captures in the gesture of his hand, curl of his lip. Alain Lombard whose broad chest and open heart are revealed in the portrait along with a swift, precise and empathic overview of his career. Hans Graf’s distinguished conducting career is captured in Johnson’s words and illuminated with a shimmering portrait. 

Leonard Bernstein is here along with composers Philip Glass and John Cage: names familiar to all music lovers for breaking new ground. 

Pianists are clearly Johnson’s love: Alfred Brendel’s troubled past in World War II when he dug ditches closes with Brendel’s love of jokes and a portrait that captures joy out of adversity: it glows. Alessandro Deljevan gets a write-up that will intrigue you with Deljevan’s dismissal of piano competitions accompanied by a passion-laden portrait of intensity. I adore the portrait of Lang Lang, who gets a slap on that talented hand for his “swoons” at the keyboard. Johnson pulls no punches about his opinions: loves and dismays—and Lang is not the only one to be speared—read to find out. Lang’s double page gets followed by the contained, controlled Radu Lupu, whose wiry hair and beard surround his solemn expression and emerge from Johnson’s pen. Beautiful women pianists capture his fancy as well: Hélène Grimaud whose black and white portrait on a swath of azure focuses on her eyes without color, eyes that surprise and hold you in their glance from the page. My top of the chart is Olivier Messiaen whose love of birdsong merits a bird on a thin wand like an angelic flight inside this composer’s portrait and life that found creativity while in a concentration camp. 

You will be entranced by the overview of artists and then return, as I did, again and again to Johnson’s distinctive style of pale ochre on skin and of what might be touches of alizarin crimson that swath the portraits with Johnson’s remarkable, signature use of color. 

This review glows because Johnson lights the pages with his words, with his art, with his love of the creative spirit.

 

 

You can order Michael Johnson's book, a bilingual book, French and English, with drawings by Johnson:

“Portraitures and caricatures:  Conductors, Pianist, Composers”  here.

 

 

 

 


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Mar 12th 2020
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Feb 22nd 2020
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Feb 22nd 2020
EXTRACT: "As our global population is projected to live longer than ever before, it’s important that we find ways of helping people live healthier for longer. Exercise and diet are often cited as the best ways of maintaining good health well into our twilight years. But recently, research has also started to look at the role our gut – specifically our microbiome – plays in how we age."
Feb 16th 2020
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Feb 14th 2020
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Feb 4th 2020
EXTRACTS: "In my many visits to Michael’s studio I have had the opportunity to observe his process up close and over time.............."Armageddon Yacht (2019)". The name is derived from a term that US sailors use for an aircraft carrier. Power and violence are recurring themes in Anderson’s work – and no less here. With irony and wit he questions our contemporary assumptions and illusions about power. The central image of three models sipping martinis on a yacht presents us with an idealized vision of Western luxury and decadence, privilege and wealth."
Jan 23rd 2020
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Jan 16th 2020
EXTRACT: "Between 1940 and 1942 Charlotte Salomon, a young German-Jewish artist, created a sequence of 784 paintings while hiding from the Nazi authorities. She gave the sequence a single title: Leben? oder Theater? (Life? or Theatre?). Viewed in the 21st century, Salomon’s artwork could be considered a precursor to the contemporary graphic novel, creating a complex web of narratives through words and images."
Jan 9th 2020
EXTRACT: "It’s simply not possible to do justice to the value of Iran’s cultural heritage – it’s a rich and noble history that has had a fundamental impact on the world through art, architecture, poetry, in science and technology, medicine, philosophy and engineering. The Iranian people are intensely aware – and rightly proud of – their Persian heritage. The archaeological legacy left by the civilisations of ancient and medieval Iran extend from the Mediterranean Sea to India and ranges across four millennia from the Bronze age (3rd millennium BC) to the glorious age of classical Islam and the magnificent medieval cities of Isfahan and Shiraz that thrived in the 9th-12th centuries AD, and beyond."
Jan 9th 2020
EXTRACT: "Lautrec had a genius for representing people. He would rarely paint any other subject. When he looked at a person who caught his interest, not only their appearance, but seemingly also their personality would magically flow from his hand, fixing a moment of their life, and his, on a piece of cardboard or canvas."
Jan 7th 2020
EXTRACT: "In 2010, Great Britain generated 75% of its electricity from coal and natural gas. But by the end of the decade*, these fossil fuels accounted for just 40%, with coal generation collapsing from the decade’s peak of 41% in 2012 to under 2% in 2019. The near disappearance of coal power – the second most prevalent source in 2010 – underpinned a remarkable transformation of Britain’s electricity generation over the last decade, meaning Britain now has the cleanest electrical supply it has ever had. Second place now belongs to wind power, which supplied almost 21% of the country’s electrical demand in 2019, up from 3% in 2010. As at the start of the decade, natural gas provided the largest share of Britain’s electricity in 2019 at 38%, compared with 47% in 2010."
Jan 5th 2020
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Jan 2nd 2020
In September 2018, Ian Buruma was forced out as editor of The New York Review of Books, following an outcry over the magazine’s publication of a controversial essay about #MeToo. A year later, in a conversation with Svenska Dagbladet US correspondent Malin Ekman, he reflects on lost assignments, literature, cancel culture, threats to freedom of speech, and the state of liberal democracy.
Dec 31st 2019
EXTRACT: "I have long been troubled by the way so many believing Christians in the West have either been ignorant of or turned their backs on the plight of Palestinians, both Christian and Muslim. Right​-wing Evangelicals, under the sway of heretical theology, are so blinded by their obsession with Israel that they can't see Israel's victims. Other Western Christians simply just don't know or about the people of Palestine. I find this state of affairs to always distressing, but especially so at Christmas time, since the Christmas story we celebrate not only took place in that land, it continues to define the lives of the Palestinians who live in places like Bethlehem and Nazareth. "
Dec 19th 2019
EXTRACT: "Although there have long been farmers and merchants who specialised in growing and selling seeds, it wasn’t until the 20th century that people started talking about seed production as an industrial process. Thanks to changes in farming, science and government regulations, most of the “elite” seed that is bought and sold around the world today is mass produced and mass marketed — by just four transnational corporations."
Dec 14th 2019
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