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Classical 101

Interactive Art Exhibition Joins Music, Painting And Technology

You know an artist is living in the 21st century when her artwork invokes YouTube, QR codes and Amy Winehouse along with finger painting, Post-it notes and J.S. Bach. Tonight Bexley's Hammond Harkins Galleries will unveil Inspired By Music, an interactive multimedia exhibition of 35 paintings artist Milisa Valliere created while under the influence of music. The canvases were inspired by the work of musicians as diverse as Bach, Beethoven, Billie Holiday, Led Zeppelin and Amy Winehouse. QR codes on display with each painting will allow viewers with smartphones to hear the music that gave rise to Valliere's artwork. And viewers will get to vote - with low-tech Post-it notes - for what they like best about each painting. A YouTube channel offering images of all of the exhibition's paintings and audio files of the music that inspired them will go live Friday, 23 Sept. at noon. Valliere began painting what would become 66 music-induced works in January 2011, while recuperating from knee surgery. Her husband, Roland Valliere, also president and chief creative officer of the Columbus Symphony Orchestra, built a digital playlist of music that his wife could use as inspiration for painting. He created the first playlist on the anniversary of the release of Led Zeppelin's debut album containing the single "Dazed and Confused." "This music was great because you can’t sit still," Milisa Valliere said. "I don’t care how you’re feeling, anybody could paint to this music. It just has so much gusto." It took Valliere only a few hours to finish the resulting painting, also titled Dazed and Confused. After that, Roland Valliere kept the playlists coming, each inspired by the anniversary of a musical milestone. "It could be the day John Lennon met Paul McCartney, or the premiere of Beethoven’s 'Eroica' Symphony, or the release of Miles Davis' Kind of Blue – whatever it might be. And then I give it to her kind of blindly and then she paints to it," Roland Valliere said. The result is a series of paintings as colorful as the wildly diverse music that inspired them. Influenced by popular music, there's The 27 Club, a series of canvases in which stylized sunflowers represent the lives of five prominent musicians who died at age 27: Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain, Jim Morrison and Amy Winehouse. Billie Holiday's "You Don't Know What Love Is" gave rise to Valliere's painting White Bird, which shows a large white feather bending before a backdrop of dark grays and red accents. "You can just hear the pain as she’s singing," Valliere said. "And when you look at this painting you can see sort of the dark strokes and then you see the fiery part in the middle, almost like an injury. But overall, it gives you a sense of freedom, like an airiness. She transcends her own pain." Classical music also left its mark on Valliere's canvases. Beethoven's Missa Solemnis was the inspiration behind Dance of the Hidden Child, a painting that conveys the frenzy with which Valliere painted it. "Everybody wants to finger paint as an adult, and there it is," said Valliere of the Dance of the Hidden Child, for which she eventually used her fingers to paint thick, white streaks before an umbrous background. "I started with a brush and (put) all the strokes on with a knife, and I was listening and getting into it, and at some point, it’s like you start fussing and fussing and then you just drop everything – you get into the paint. You are physically in the painting." The result of Valliere's process blends her journey though the paint with the transcendence of Beethoven's music. "It’s like being the feather in the windstorm, that’s Beethoven. Flying in spite of the pain," Valliere said. "Freedom. Not toggled to the earth, free." Johann Sebastian Bach's music also found its way into Valliere's artwork. Valliere painted A Strange Beauty to pianist Simone Dinnerstein's eponymous recording featuring Bach's piano music. The painting is a fiesta of color overlaid with subtle cross-hatchings etched into the impasto. "When you hear that music, it’s musical and it’s mathematical and it goes kind of up and down and side to side, almost like weaving," Valliere said. "And that's, I think, what came out in the painting process." Valliere says viewers don't need to have memorized the complete works of J.S. Bach or to have compiled encyclopedic knowledge of classic rock in order to get the most out of the exhibition. Those with smartphones can point their phones at QR codes next to each painting and instantly hear the music that inspired it. Viewers also will be able to communicate with each other and with Valliere what they liked about each painting. "I want to get a couple different colors of Post-it notes and hand them to people when they come in, and then have people just stick the blue one by the (painting) that they like the music, or stick the red one or the yellow one by the (painting) that they like the visual," Valliere said. "I just want to have sort of an interactive way of people thinking about and getting to vote in an easy way." But most of all, Valliere says she wants Inspired By Music to bring people together to enjoy art. "I hope everybody comes, people who collect art and people that don’t know anything about art," Vallierre said. "And I hope that it’s like a great living room where everybody will interact and share phones and help each other and just have conversations about it." Inspired By Music opens Sept. 23 (opening reception 5-8 p.m.) and runs through Oct. 23 at Hammond Harkins Galleries, 2264 E. Main Street, Bexley, Ohio. Roland Valliere will talk about the musical inspiration for the exhibition at 2 p.m., Sunday, Sept. 25, at Hammond Harkins Galleries.