While many artists use music to guide the rhythm of their brushstrokes, it doesn't often move beyond accompaniment to canvas. But for Rachel Marks, an Oklahoma State University art student, the resonance of an instrument and its shape and contours are the subject of a series of oil and watercolor paintings.
"I used to be a ballet dancer and I really wanted to keep exploring movement and music and dance, and how it all fits together," she said. "Now instead of expressing music through my body, I'm expressing music through my visual mind."
All of her pieces in the series are large-scale and meant to be "confrontational, because they're larger than life." Rather than paint the whole instrument, each work focuses on a small part that is to unique to it and the way it is played, whether the protruding bell of a trombone or the strings inside of a piano.
"The view I choose becomes abstract, so that it's not about what the instrument looks like, but what it sounds like," she said.
Marks' work is on display through Sunday at the Schardein & Co. Salon, 9401 N. May. A stylist there said new works by local artists are rotated through the hair salon each month.
The colors in her art transfer sound to sight, evoking the low, warm reeds of the bassoon through heavy, dark brushstrokes, and the luminescence of a piano through silver and gold metallics. On her watercolor of a violin, she used a salt resist to help the colors blend and fade on the wooden body of the stringed instrument.
"On the flute, if you are playing a B-flat, you are playing a B-flat, and you can only obscure the sound with your embouchure to make it sharp or flat, but on a violin, you can slide it and you can literally get an infinite amount of tones," she said. "Just as the notes are allowed to flow together in this instrument, so are the colors in the painting."
Many of the pieces appear abstract because of the focus on just a few valves of a trumpet or keys of a saxophone, but musicians who play the instruments will instantly be able to recognize them through her attention to detail.
"If you didn't know what it was, you would not be necessarily sure it was an instrument," she said. "It's the emotional aspect that hits you first, and then you explore the visual aspect and what the colors do to you."
Marks listens to the instrument being played while painting, to understand not only how the sound vibrates warmly or coolly, but also how it fits into a musical ensemble. Her plan for the series was to paint all of the main instruments in an orchestra, each with its own hues that color and layer in the music. When she goes to graduate school, she intends to start painting symphonies, breaking down each movement into colors or natural phenomenon, such as rain or wind.
Another idea she has for the project is with photography. She has already taken several photographs of herself painted in nature, including one stretched out in a field of clover with painted grass and flowers covering her skin, and another posed against a landscape with clouds around her shoulders, transitioning down into trees and ground on her waist and legs. The new series would use her body and the paint to replicate the sounds of instruments.
For example, she might think of the harp, which she describes as "sounding like water," and paint blue waves on herself and stand somewhere that's "calm and soothing," or she might cover herself with birds to mimic the runs on a flute and photograph herself against a blue sky.
Paintings by Rachel Marks displays today through Sunday at Schardein & Co. Salon, 9401 N. May.