Whoever took up a brush at least once, knows very well that the act of painting can become a very physical one. From the stretching of canvases through the mixing of paint to wandering around with the brush, the body acts as a transmitter of ideas, emotions and attitudes. It translates the intangible into the substantial. Equally, the body also performs as a communicator for music. The connection between visual imagery and sound lies at the heart of Muscle Memory, an exhibition of works by a painter Anna Liber Lewis and a musician Kieran Hebden, better known as Four Tet. The fruits of their collaboration are a series of drawings and paintings and three tracks, composed in response to them.
The paintings are vibrant and enliven the typical white cube exhibition space in Elephant West. They are all accumulations of colours and shapes, overlapping and intersecting on the surface of canvases. With blocky constellations resulting in ambiguous subjects, they vaguely remind me of Matisse and Picasso. However, in Anna’s works, the power dynamic is reversed – it is a female gaze dissecting the reality. The new works in the exhibition mark a clear abandonment of Lewis’s earlier intense subjectivity and obviously figurative painting. They are inventive in the multitude of narratives, but they seem to reoccur as an album played on a loop.
The music is played aloud only twice a day, so I put on the headphones to see what this is all about. Each of the songs is different, varying from more upbeat to ambient. The noise and sampled conversations are blurred into them and are beyond comprehension. They stand in a parallel to the paintings’ background, often done with a thin layer of paint, revealing movements of the brush, but also creating multi-layered compositions. As in Four Tet’s music, their logic relies on the arrangement of overlapping forms, but there is a space for dynamics. As the tempo speeds up, the strings and detailed texture in the songs are more noticeable, and the details in the paintings seem to become more vivid. The floating eyes, the rays, the swirls, the lines, the colours’ intensity - diminishing and increasing again. Finally, I understand this relationship. I am standing in front of a painting and my head swings in its rhythm. My body can feel the brushstrokes, and my muscles are contracting to the beat. I absorb the images with my eyes, as they transmit through my neurons.
The idea that visual art and music go well together is an old one. It has been addressed many times and it seems that in the age of easily available immersive experiences, there is nothing to be added to the subject. And yet, days later, I am writing this text and I can see the paintings clearly in front of my eyes. My foot taps the floor in accordance with the music. Perhaps I just think I remember them well. But it might as well be that I recall my muscle memory.