Beginning of the Goldberg Variations

I’ve thought about this series for a long time. Over the past few years, it’s been floating around in my mind in various forms, although nothing has come together enough to put down in paint, sculpture, or ink. But, after having worked on 55 monotype prints over the course of a month and a half, I think it’s starting to take shape.

To give a little context, the Goldberg Variations is a series of piano pieces by Bach. The first piece, the Aria, was a song he wrote for his wife. Then, he wrote 30 variations on that theme. Bach wrote the series, named after pianist Johann Gottlieb Goldberg, for Count Kaiserling, According to the story, Kaiserling had insomnia, and he would have his pianist, Goldberg, play one of the pieces in his bedroom whenever he couldn’t sleep.

The theme is based on the bass line, and all the variations follow this theme. There is a structure to the variations, and they are typically played all together, with the Aria played both first and last. There are 2 variations, followed by a canon (a song where 2 voices start at different times…think of singing Row, Row, Row Your Boat). Each canon starts 1 note below the previous, so Variation 3 starts on the same note, and Variation 6 starts 1 note below, etc. Finally, Variation 30 is called the Quodlibet, which is sort of a silly play on music that Bach wrote using popular folk songs. And, then, the entire work ends with the Aria, played again for the 2nd time.

I have always been entranced by the piece, and I listen to it often. The Aria is simply beautiful, and the whole piece has a meditative quality, all leading right back to where it started. There’s such an interesting structure and rigidness to it that is hard to tell from the freedom of the melody. There are triumphant songs to somber, loud and soft, scattered and controlled.

So, my plan has always been to create a series of 32 pieces, with the first and last being the Aria, and this leads to the process I’ve been developing with monotype printmaking. There are a few ground rules I’ve given myself. 1) Each piece is created while listening to the entire Goldberg Variations. 2) They all follow a theme that is started at the beginning, but after those initial wipes with a rag, the ink dictates how the form will appear. 3) I don’t know which piece fits with each variation until all are complete. Once all of them are done, I’ll let them align themselves to the order of the variations. 4) The final piece will be the Aria, which will be based on one of the previously painted prints.

That leads me to the theme…the eye. In particular, it’s my fiancé, Adan’s, eye. After painting portraits in the past, the eyes have always been where I started. It always felt like the painting was taking shape once the eyes were painted. So, these prints are a simplification of process that has taken me a few years to get to. Stripping away the rest of the form, I see these taking on a whole new form, something more genuine and uniquely me. Of course, looking at the prints when they are done, I don’t expect them to look like an eye, but it’s more the subconscious influence that interests me.

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Please check back regularly to the gallery where I’ll be adding and changing the photos until all 32 are complete. And thank you for checking them out.