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Jazz, Color, and the Harlem Renaissance: What Do Paintings Sound Like?

Updated: Jan 3, 2018

"It's a conversation between two forms of art. They're similar languages."

— AIR Volunteer Artist

Portsmouth Middle School students grabbed brushes and put them to canvas while In Ears 'n' Eyes (IENE) played in the background; the resultant paintings kicked off the students’ study of the Harlem Renaissance.

Artists Roger Goldenberg and Matt Langley developed IENE, an audio-visual experience, in collaboration with other local creators. Together, Goldenberg and Langley compose music based on what certain colors “sound like”. For example, the brush strokes of a painting influence the music’s rhythm. IENE set up their five-piece jazz band and played impromptu music based on opposing words, chosen by the students. As IENE played live, the students responded to the music by creating collaborative abstract paintings which popped with movement and color. 

"I've sketched before while listening to music, but it wasn't anything like this," said one student. Another testified to the power of inter-disciplinary connections: "You could see the relation between the music and the art", they said, " now I understand the whole process of making a painting, too".

The eighty-five students who participated in the project also attended the Romare Bearden “A Black Odyssey” exhibit at the Currier Museum of Art in Manchester, NH.

The final student exhibition, titled "Vision, Verse & Verve: Timeless Themes of the Harlem Renaissance", opened on Saturday, April 12 at the Seacoast African American Cultural Center (located at 10 Middle St., Portsmouth) and will remain on display until the end of June. 

Coordinated by AIR school coordinator and arts educator Anna Nuttall, this project was made possible by an Artists in Residence Grant from the New Hampshire State Council on the Arts.


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