For the Love of Dance and Music: Painters Strive to Capture the Emotions and Energy of Musicians and Dancers

By Chapman, Audrey S. | Art Business News, April 2006 | Go to article overview

For the Love of Dance and Music: Painters Strive to Capture the Emotions and Energy of Musicians and Dancers


Chapman, Audrey S., Art Business News


It happened in 1968. But Belgrade-born painter Nenad Mirkovich remembers it to this day. He remembers the people and the pigeons. He remembers the beggars on the street.

But most of all he remembers the violin player who, in the midst of it all, was simply lost--lost in the moment and the music as the maze of people and pigeons surrounded him.

"It was like a little miracle," Mirkovich says.

That miracle struck such a chord in Mirkovich that he not only painted this violinist once, he's painted him again and again, looking to re-create the magic he witnessed on that long ago, but not forgotten, day. This desire comes from the same place as that of people who want to surround themselves with music and dance in their art. Just as looking at that violinist inspired 56-year-old Mirkovich to paint, looking at paintings of musicians and dancers stirs something in people, which may be why artists such as the French Impressionist, Edgar Degas, whose 19th-century paintings of ballerinas are among the most well-known depictions of dance in art, have always found an audience for their work, says Mirkovich.

When it comes to music depicted in art, Los Angeles painter Clifford Bailey says, "It can make you cry. It can make you think. It can make you laugh. It can make you remember a moment in time."

"It reminds them of moments of joy in life, moments of celebrating," adds Israeli-born artist David Schluss.

"It's seductive. It's haunting. It affects people," says Sausalito, CA, painter Mark Keller.

Like Mirkovich, Keller experienced his own little miracle years ago, when a stroll through a 100-year-old Buenos Aires bar presented a scene so moving, he's painted its subjects again and again.

"There was something about them," Keller says in a far-off voice, describing the musicians he saw playing under a stream of white light, the paintings and patina surrounding them. "They had an ashtray for tips. They had a sign that said, 'Gracias.' But they didn't care about that. These guys were in their 60s. They were elegant. They were playing for the joy of it. It was just beautiful."

While Keller, 52, has been an artist since he was a child, he launched his career as a full-time artist in the year 2000, following the path of his father, who was a cartoonist in the armed services.

"I don't remember not having a pencil or a crayon, and drawing on whatever open surface there was," Keller says.

But genetics isn't the only thing that feeds Keller's art. "I was in a rock band like everybody else," he says with a laugh.

Keller's journey to that stage began as a kid when he picked up his brother's guitar, building an intimacy with music that's infused into his art to this day. Whether he depicts a man cradling an old, beloved violin or a woman dancing in the back of a smoke-filled room, his rich, realistic portrayals breathe a respect for music and its affect on the musician. "There's always passion when you see a great musician, or even a mediocre musician, if they're putting their heart into it," Keller says. "You see it on their faces; you see it in the veins of their necks that they're giving it all they've got. Sometimes they turn toward me and smile and I think, 'No. Please. Just go back to what you were doing.'"

Depicting the Connection

That sacred connection is one that Los Angeles artist Justin Bua pays homage to in "Trumpet Man," a piece that depicts a man playing the trumpet before a dark, looming skyline. "He is a lone figure playing for the love of it, not the money, not the fame," Bua says in a fast-paced clip. "That is what I really love about that character. He is in his own thing. He might look drugged, but he is drugged from his music, not from drugs."

Like Keller, Bua, 37, comes from a family of artists. His mother was a painter. "Now, she's a dabbler," he says. And his grandfather was an artist. …

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