Sunday, July 26, 2015

Jazz Legends | Billie Holiday

"Jazz Legends | Billie Holiday", 16x20" Acrylic on Canvas.
GiclĂ©e prints available from Global Vernissage
I had to make a few copies of my original drawing to use as
masks... I would love to be able to just paint the details
right on the canvas instead of doing all this extra work,
but somehow it never looks quite right.
I'm getting near the end of this project, so I'm going to be posting a piece every few weeks as I add my finishing touches. I was going to do a video for this one, but as I looked through my working pics I realized it wasn't going to work. I had taken a bunch of close up shots rather than full canvas images. Don't know what I was thinking.

When I first heard Billie Holiday sing, what struck me was the emotion she was able to convey with her voice. I was young and just realizing there was more to music than the top 40 played on the radio, or the prog rock loved by my older siblings. This was different... she sounded so sad. Certainly not what you got from your average teeny-bopper pop. I got a bunch of records (yes, records) out of the library and taped it onto a cheap cassette tape, which were listened to over and over when I was a mopy teenager.
Just starting to build up the interior forms...

Starting on this series I knew she had to be included. She was of the right era, sang with Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington, performed at the popular night clubs in Harlem. Deciding on a photo to work from posed a bit of a challenge… there are many great photos of her floating around, but very little video footage exists. I didn't want to just copy a photo, although I ended up choosing an iconic image, and altering it to include the signature white gardenias she wore in her hair.

Years ago, for my birthday, my now-husband gave me a box set of her "hits". I don't think until then that I realized her song "Strange Fruit" was about racism. She didn't write it (it was originally a poem written by Abel Meeropol) , but she sings it with such intense emotion, I remember feeling slightly ill the first time I listened carefully to the lyrics. I still can't listen to it without it affecting me... and I don't know of too many singers who can wrench that kind of emotion out of a song. Especially these days.