The Colours of Glenn

In my “Glenn” box here at home, I managed to find some notes I had scribbled down a few years ago regarding a colour test that Glenn Gould had apparently liked. I have in my notes that, at the 17:12 point in an interview with Adele Armin, the colours with which Glenn most resonated were grey, blue, black and brown. The interview was put out a few years ago on the site, Unheard Notes: Glenn Gould Interviews.

The colours, grey, blue, black and brown, represented, for Glenn, very distinct things. His beloved grey, for instance, represented the philosophical side, while blue represented the spiritual. Black represented barriers or, rather, privacy, an element highly needed and valued by Glenn. Brown represented the body, though not in a physical sense, but rather, in terms of how it could serve. “Glenn lived for grey, dull days,” Lorne Tulk once told me and, of course, many of us know of Glenn’s love for “battleship grey.”

A few years ago, I discovered the paintings of American artist, Linden Frederick. I’d been putting together the show, Glenn Gould 905: A Triple Birthday Multi-Media Celebration for The Chamber Music Society of Mississauga and I remember the pleasure I felt when I saw paintings such as the ones below:

What I like about Frederick’s paintings is that I find myself looking not at them, but rather, into them and, when I do, I find familiar scenes from instances in the past, perhaps even in dreams, where I felt glad to be alone, as though I had the whole scene to myself, albeit safely distanced from the actuality of the lives within the houses depicted. These paintings give me that much desired feeling of distance while at the same time still being of the moment.

I think that Glenn Gould would very much have liked Frederick’s paintings. State Highway, in particular, seems to me, to be the kind of painting Glenn might have had hanging in his apartment on St. Clair Ave., West in Toronto, next to his grand piano and his books by Thomas Mann, Natsume Sōseki, Marshall McLuhan and others. With grey, blue and black having been the colours Glenn liked best and, also, his habit of being a night owl who craved solitude and who loved driving, it seems that the paintings could have been real winners with Glenn.

When I dug a little deeper into Frederick’s work, I found an interview he did with Paul Polycarpou, Editor and CEO for the Nashville Arts Magazine. The video was made in conjunction with the “Linden Frederick: Untold Stories” exhibition at Haynes Galleries, which ran from April 12 to May 18, 2013 and can be viewed here:

When I listened to this interview, some things stood out. For instance, Frederick agreed with the interviewer that his paintings generally have a feeling of loneliness and detachment. “I think that’s my personality,” he added, “not that I’m melancholic, I just appreciate a kind of quiet, contemplative feeling.”

What I found most interesting and which connects to Glenn’s work, was when the interviewer asked Frederick about how there are no people in the paintings. “Well, that is intentional,” said the artist. “I’ve always felt that once a figure, or a person, is in the painting, then that painting becomes about that person…When you take that person out, then it becomes the viewer’s story and, to me, that’s just much more interesting.”

This comment reminds one of how Glenn gave up performing in public in order to devote himself to the recording studio. In a live performance, the performer is the show and mob law applies. Whatever happens, happens and there’s no going back to fix it. Live performance is about the magic that happens between performer and audience. Many artists thrive on this, but not Glenn.

For Glenn, the recording studio allowed him complete control and the ability to go back and do things over, to ultimately create a product that could reach listeners in their homes, directly, on a highly intimate and personal level, right where they were, presumably alone, or, at the very least, not part of a large crowd and, therefore, where they could afford to devote their maximum attention to the recording. As well, Glenn liked the idea that from home, a listener could also adjust the settings of their audio equipment, that they had some control over the final product.

I often wonder if Glenn wasn’t a bit naive in thinking that people listening at home could be counted on to be listening any more deeply than they would in a concert hall, or that members of a large audience couldn’t be experiencing very direct and personal one-to-one experiences with the performer on stage. In any event, this was the general hope and assumption that Glenn had and, if nothing else, it illustrates just how completely immersed he was in his musical credo and the desire to communicate deeply with listeners.

I suppose what I’ve learned here, is that a painting that lacks people might better allow for a greater degree of solitude for the viewer than a painting with people in it and that this observation has some connection to the listening experience had by a person listening alone at home, versus in a crowd at a concert hall. I had never thought about paintings in this manner and it is very interesting. Perhaps it explains why the art on my own walls here at home, consists of people-less scenes such as these:

I guess then, that Glenn’s phrase, “Solitude is the prerequisite for ecstatic experiences” applies to Linden Frederick. Interestingly, when the interviewer asked him if he ever goes out of his way to meet the people inside of the homes he paints, Frederick answered, “No, I avoid them.”

I hope that one day I can save up some money for a painting by Linden Frederick. In the meantime, it will make me glad to know that I helped share his work. https://www.lindenfrederick.com/

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