Graham Crowley – “I can’t listen to music when I’m in the studio painting. Any response to the music would modify my judgement and behaviour”



Well, is pretty clear that among the vast collection you have, Captain Beefheart is the boss. You told me that you’ve recently also been invited to speak about the paintings of him as Don Van Vliet at The Captain Beefheart Symposium at The Bluecoat Gallery… what was your speech about, and why do you love his work so much?

It’s not just Don Van Vliet‘s (aka Captain Beefheart‘s) music (or his paintings) that have influenced me. It’s fundamentally his relationship with orthodoxy and tradition. I love the dissonant, edgy, broken beats and counterpoint of Trout Mask Replica – and the sublime, pol-rhythmic drumming of John ‘Drumbo’ French. Beefheart’s music was the ‘soundtrack’ to my adolescence. Then there’s his poetry…witty, alliterative, punning and evocative. Thoroughly memorable.
It still is. I went to hear The Magic Band on Sunday. It was their ‘farewell’ and last ever UK gig. Another chapter closes.

Graham Crowley (19)

What about that guitar: you said that it’s a John Strutton piece, an artist that I didn’t know but that seems very interesting talking about the connections between music and visual/plastic art. You also seems to be a painter strongly connected with music, maybe inspired by that? Can you relate the paintings you did with the music you were listening at the time of painting? (and are you able to play that guitar?)

John Strutton is a visual artist who not only paints on guitars and drum skins – but plays in a band called ‘Arthur Brick’. He also does collaborative ‘sound pieces’.
I can’t relate any one piece of music to any particular painting. So here’s a list of some recent listening – Captain Beefheart & The Magic Band, The Sun City Girls, Harry Partch, Hauschka (“Craco” – stunningly beautiful piano piece), Varese, Coil, Nurse With Wound, Boren & Der Club of Gore, Leyland Kirby (aka The Caretaker), Tim Hecker, Philip Glass and finally – the amazing Hannes Buder.

Please listen to Hannes Buder’s extraordinary “Requiem for Alexander Litvinenko” on “Changes ll” – It’s simply stunning. A piece that is at first fragmented and brittle but gradually morphs into the most moving and stirring final few bars. Please try and let me know what you think. Buder’s ‘pain’ is also an amazing piece. His rendition of Arvo Part‘s “Fratres” is mind blowing.
There’s one major complication – I can not and never do – listen to music when I’m in the studio painting. Any response to the music would modify my judgement and behaviour whilst painting. For instance – listening to epic/classical composers like Mahler or Elgar modifies one’s thinking. I paint in absolute silence – although that’s not strictly true – as I suffer from tinnitus – and have done for the last ten years. I now can’t imagine what silence is like. I’ve actually forgotten.
I can’t play the guitar; I was learning to play the piano and read music? Satie and Hauschka.

Graham, that piece from Hans Buder is absolutely awesome. I didn’t remember of it, and now I found it back: I discovered it through The Wire’s Tapper compilation. I think I’ll buy it now. Thanks for this. You somehow know my tastes very well.

Yes, Hannes Buder “Requiem For Alexander Litvinenko” is on his album “Changes ll”.
I’ve also got Hannes’ latest album ‘gravity’ on which he plays the cello – accompanied by double bass and drums. All three albums are excellent – in different ways.


Graham Crowley - Butthole Surfers + Listz and Schumann (12).JPG

Sorry this one comes directly from my stomach: you have Listz and Schumann ‘sandwiched’ between Butthole Surfers (“Locust Abortion Technician”, one of my favourite record ever!) and Sun City Girls… along with a Bill Cosby half-eaten one just few steps ahead! That’s being an eclectic listener! I can’t guess any order or classification… Is there some reason why are the placed that way?

Well spotted. I love that juxtaposition – I’m very eclectic.
This is something to do with my (art) education – it’s not simply a matter of taste – it’s about curiosity and diversity. I love anything marginal, unpredictable or ‘problematic’.
I have some Noise, Power Electronics, lots of Drone, Electronica, Neo Folk, Ambient, Dark Ambient, Experimental and Field Recordings, etc.
By the way – I also have quite a lot of blues, old school R’n’B, some Classical and some Jazz – but very little mainstream rock.
Placement is arbitrary – there’s no order and no reason. The only shelf that is remotely ‘organised’ is the top shelf – it’s almost every Beefheart (and Beefheart related) CD available.

Graham Crowley (10) - Nurse With Wound .JPG

Among the music I mostly like there’s in fact a bunch of Nurse With Wound and various industrial-related friends: tell me about this ‘grey area’ of your collection…

Like you – I too love ‘disturbing music’ – or what Cold Spring Records refer to as ‘extreme media’ – because it challenges assumptions and conventions. It also challenges commodification. Steve Stapleton (NWW) sets his project against cultural norms. NWW will never be mainstream. I also enjoy his montage/collage method. He thinks like a painter (or artist).
I’m sometimes surprised by my reactions. ‘Disturbing music’ also makes listening an intense and complex experience – rather than simply ‘pleasant’.

Thank you for sending me that picture of Exploded View‘s 12″ EP ‘Summer Came Early’. Do you think that the music fits your image and vice versa? Or you think that it builds different interpretations on both? Did Martin told you why did he chose that specific painting or did you propose that to him?

I don’t think they fit – or even refer to each other. They jointly create something new. I think you’re right to suggest that the interpretation is modified. Martin Thulin (the band’s drummer and good friend of mine) chose “Red Terrace”: there was no discussion. You’d have to ask him why? I suspect he thought the image striking – and displayed a vibrancy that he thought would reflect his music (or his intentions for the music).

Graham Crowley is a painter and writer currently living and working in Suffolk, UK. He refers to himself as a painter – not an artist. He was Professor of Painting at the Royal College of Art from 1998 until 2006 when he returned to his practice, full time – that and learning to play the piano. In 2015 Graham published a collection of essays entitled ‘I don’t like art’.
Graham has exhibited widely both in the UK and internationally. He was a speaker at the Beefheart Symposium at The Bluecoat Gallery in Liverpool in 2017. |

Graham Crowley painter - PHOTO.JPG

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