Don Van Vliet In Bielefeld by Andreas Beaugrand

This article was taken from the book Stand Up To Be Discontinued which accompanied the exhibition of the same name.

In our days, music is everywhere: on the radio and on TV, at home and wherever you go, on the stage, at the supermarket and in restaurants. Also, the arts have become more and more an everyday affair: The large exhibitions which attract millions of people speak for themselves. And then there is art at your bank, art in buildings, art in public spaces – art, and even supposed art, is all over. No longer does it seem strange to us to find the influence of modern art in the presentations of music groups, like on video clips, record covers and posters.

What is it that affects us about music and art? What is the correlation between these art forms? The answer to that question is multiple, but one thing is for sure: art means communication. The Bielefeld Art Association has made it its goal to promote and enhance that communication with the varied forms of art. The word ‘art’ is related etymologically to the word ‘knowing, knowledge, ability’ and seen from that viewpoint, the artist owns an ability for art, acquired through talent and practise, which the onlooker is expected to follow – if [s]he so wishes.

The art of the American artist Don Van Vliet helps to increase the communication between the various art groups: within his own person as an agent between music and painting, and then between the art associations and the cities’ organisations, between the artists and the onlookers – between humans.

So far, Don Van Vliet’s oeuvre has been an unusual mixture of visual art and music. The conception of this phenomenon requires silence, concentration and time, and it’s especially the art which asks for that calmness of the eye, an attempt to approach the piece of art and its artist as well as a stepping back for critical judgement.

When there is closeness between a piece of art and its onlooker, a mutual understanding which then will result in communication, it is born out of

emotions in most of the cases. A free spirit, passione per l’arte (Sandro Chia) or devotion are the basic ideas, which the American artist Don Van Vliet reunites within his person. He counts among the large number of painting musicians on the scene since the sixties – mainly in England -, the most well-known being probably the Beatles, but also musicians like David Bowie, Kevin Coyne, Bob Dylan, Ron Wood, Walter Dahn or Wolfgang Niedecken. Another remarkable symbiosis of painting and music or other forms of art was manifested between pop-music and pop-art, and the most renowned example of that type of ‘joint-venture’ is represented by Andy Warhol and Velvet Underground.

Such symbiosis may also be found in the art of the supposedly eccentric artist Don Van Vliet, who has always been painting besides making his very own rhythmical and strange blues music. His fans are more familiar with the artist and his music under the name of Captain Beefheart.

The schoolmate of Frank Zappa has always been interested in blues, but at the same time he was dedicated to progressive jazz and thus has tried with his “Folkmusic of the 21st century…, to tear down musical boundaries and to reconstruct new sound structures with the elementary pieces.” (The New Dictionary of Rock Music, 1990)

As a musician who is said to cover four and a half octaves with his voice, the ‘Blues-Dadaist’ Don Van Vliet alias Captain Beefheart has been called more innovative even than Zappa’s Mothers of Invention by the music critics and thus he became an international cult figure, together with his Magic Band (oddly enough, they issued only few records together). Walter Dahn, a former member of the group of artists Mulheimer Freiheit, and who has become meanwhile an internationally recognized painter and musician, wrote the following about Don Van Vliet: “Other than most of the painting musicians, whose relationship with art history is characterized by a narrow-minded forgetfulness rather than by remembering facts, the paintings of Don Van Vliet demonstrate with their highly artistic ‘failure’ an awareness of this insolvable but nevertheless important responsibility of true art: To destroy things on the canvas and to reopen the rectangular hole in this unbearably ‘meaningful’ world, which – for a moment- ‘lets the light penetrate from the other side through the door thus exposing the ass of the world.’ (Music Express/Sounds, 8/1993, page 14).

Don Van Vliet began to paint and draw more than 25 years ago: spontaneous, full of intuition, directly from the head to the hand. At the beginning of the eighties, he declared his career as a musician to be over and concentrated almost exclusively on the art of painting. In various interviews, Don Van Vliet has repeatedly declared that Vincent Van Gogh and the American artist Franz Kline were his favorite painters. When looking at his works it becomes evident why their works are so important to him: Don Van Vliet is a modern painter with a touch of expressionism. For him, the combination of the two art forms music and painting does not mean that he would paint music or complete his paintings through music (which would only represent a kind of multimedia construction): The painting of Don Van Vliet is original, expressive and convincing.

By exhibiting the art of Don Van Vliet, the Bielefelder Kunstverein realises yet another demonstration of the close relationship between art and life (Joseph Beuys) not only in respect of the artistic oeuvre of Don Van Vliet, but also with regard to the numerous persons and institutions who have enthusiastically joined this project.

Therefore, the Bielefelder Kunstverein (Bielefeld Art Association) wishes to thank the Cologne gallery-owner Mr. Michael Werner and his assistants for their easy-going and always reliable help supplied and for their trust in lending us the paintings of Don Van Vliet; the museums and galleries in Cologne, Odense and Brighton, who have agreed to that cooperation with the Bielefelder Kunstverein; the Stuttgart publisher Cantz for accepting this book among his internationally renowned art-book editions; the authors and translators, who have helped to complete this book, and all those, whose endeavors and commitment to the project have made the exhibition possible, but whose names would fill too many pages to be listed.

– Andreas Beaugrand Bielefelder Kunstverein e.V.

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