INTERVIEW: Paint The Town In Sound | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Image: Graeme Hopper, With Guilt, 2019, mixed media collage, 29.7 x 21cm. Courtesy of the artist

Sunderland’s acclaimed quirk popsters Field Music have been let loose on the Arts Council Collection of artwork to curate a music-themed exhibition, taking place online from this month. Paint The Town In Sound looks at the intrinsic links between music and visual art, asking how they function as acts of self-portraiture – whether through youth and fan culture, fashion, iconography and symbolism.

The band’s David Brewis explains how the exhibition came about: We were given free rein with the Arts Council Collection and combined it with some North East-related things to look at how music and visual art feed into each other, and especially with how we use music culture as an act of self-identification.”

Featured artists include Helen Cammock, Jeremy Deller, Anthea Hamilton, Mark Leckey and Susan Philipsz. “I think Mark Leckey’s Parade and Jeremy Deller’s The Uses of Literacy were the key starting points. With the Leckey, it’s about how we use imagery and symbols to present ourselves to the world. And with the Deller, you’re seeing how people construct their identities through their attachment to pop culture.”

It was also important that regional artists were recognised, and the exhibition features well-known North East names like Rachel Lancaster, Graeme Hopper and Narbi Price. “We’ve got Laura Lancaster’s painting for the new Maximo Park album, a Narbi Price painting and one of the stage shirts Pauline Murray made for herself.” North East-linked record sleeves will also go on display alongside local video work, original flyers and gig posters and a display from the Bunker 35 archive.

no matter what your background, that desire to make or remake your identity from songs and images is pretty universal

Paint The Town In Sound promises to be an accessible and highly engaging exhibition, drawing from elements of popular culture that are ingrained in our everyday lives, as David explains: What band T-shirt you wear, what typeface you use on your record sleeve, what you soundtrack your Tik-Tok videos with…they’re all imbued with meaning and associations and we’re using those associations almost as social shorthand. In visual art, symbolism is a really powerful tool – consciously used to give subtext – but in pop music symbols are mostly indistinguishable from cliché. So, for example, if you want people to understand that you’re miserable and lonesome you might use the symbol of a reverb-y slide guitar and mention whiskey in your lyrics.” And when it comes to Field Music’s own sound, David admits that most of how visual art influences them is most likely through “unconscious pilfering”. Of course, we use symbols too but we try to be aware that we’re doing it and I hope that we do it for good reason and not just as a shortcut to profundity.”

An accompanying programme of events and podcasts are also planned, plus Sunderland’s Young Musicians Project members are putting together a display of local musicians to be exhibited in the museum’s Art Lounge, and further collaborations are planned with Sunderland Culture’s Celebrate Different Collective and Arts Centre Washington’s Bright Lights exhibition for young artists.

Working on this exhibition has really made us confront how we tell stories about ourselves through our music and artwork.” Said David. “And it’s also shown that no matter what your background, that desire to make or remake your identity from songs and images is pretty universal.”

The Paint The Town In Sound exhibition takes place online from Monday 21st December until Sunday 21st February 2021

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