The paintings of Leah Durner embody “generosity, beauty, and dirt.” (And the music she listens to while she creates them isn’t so bad either.) Take a listen to this latest playlist from the New York City-based artist, then check out her new one-person exhibition, Leah Durner: NAKED COLOR, May 5 – 28 at 571 Projects.
What do you listen to while you work? My tastes in music vary widely, but all the music I love shares a sense of history, conveys a sense of human drama, and has emotional depth and authenticity. I love classical music—especially solo piano as well as opera. I also love American roots music and the American songbook, as well as classic punk. What these genres have in common is passion and a kind of rawness.
I have a strong foundation in traditional Western European studies, which is the source of my interest in classical music, and I am also interested in the American experience. I was raised a Roman Catholic in the South; the juxtaposition of these two very different cultures has had an important influence on me—roots/rural culture versus the highly developed Western European culture especially evident in pre-Vatican II Roman Catholicism, which was the traditional patron of the greatest works in the history of both art and music. My grandparents worked in a cotton mill in North Carolina (my grandmother grew up on a subsistence farm before moving to town to work in the mill) and today I live today in NYC—so the roots music serves as a constant reminder of both my own past and the historic arc from premodern to a postmodern narrative.
I listen to Handel’s pastoral operas quite a bit and especially love his Acis and Galatea. The idea of the pastoral is one of the foundational utopian concepts embedded in American thought. What is looking for heaven except looking for a kind of utopia, the ideal community or city?
In addition to Handel, I listen to quite a bit of Schubert and Chopin solo piano. Schubert is especially dear to me because his work has an originality as well as a depth of kindness and humanity. The poignancy in Schubert and Chopin touches the bittersweet-ness of being human.
Do you have any favorite music websites/providers? I listen to Radio Classique, a station streaming from Paris. They have good programming (perhaps just a little middlebrow!) and I can continue to develop my ear for the French language while listening to the music. They have a great program with Olivier Bellamy called Passion Classique—where he interviews musicians, composers, and other public figures about their favorite works and then plays the music during the course of the interview.
Does music influence your work? YES! The biggest influence on my work is opera. My intention for painting is to create visually astonishing, conceptually audacious, and staggeringly beautiful large-scale works. The art form most aligned with my goals as a painter is opera. My large-scale poured enamels have a sense of over-the-top-ness and passion that is evident in opera.
Where do you find music recommendations? I discover new works through going deeper into the oeuvres of composers I already listen to. I also learn about new works by attending concerts (Carnegie Hall is my favorite venue) where there may be something on the program I’ve never heard. Also, I recently started singing and have become interested in the American songbook.
Who influences your musical taste? Other artists and friends who have a passion for a certain area of music. I learned to appreciate opera through John Cage, whom I knew more as an artist. In 1988, I wrote an article on Cage’s Europeras I & II, a work that incorporates arias from different European operas selected using chance operations—to go from John Cage to Handel is certainly a course I never could have charted in advance! As I mentioned, roots music—including gospel—and early country music (pre-corporate Nashville, especially Hank Williams). My parents had just a few classical records in the house when I was growing up, but I listened to them over and over.
What song or artist best represents the work you create? Why is it that after all my talk about opera and roots music the first person to spring emphatically to mind is Jimi Hendrix?! Perhaps it is because he was a true artist, truly original, and went all the way with his work holding back nothing! And on the other hand I am doing everything I can to create my own Ring. Where is my King Ludwig?!
Embraceable You, Ella Fitzgerald
Surrey with the Fringe on Top from Oklahoma!, Blossom Dearie,
For Me and My Gal from For Me and My Gal, Judy Garland and Gene Kelly
The Best is Yet to Come, Frank Sinatra
Ungarische Melodie (Hungarian Melodie) D. 817, Franz Schubert
Berceuse in D flat major Opus 57, Fryderyk Chopin
Die liebe Farbe from Die Schöne Müllerin, Franz Schubert
Alone and Forsaken, Hank Williams
Wildwood Flower, Carter Family with Mother Maybelle
O! the Pleasure of the Plains from Acis and Galatea, George Frideric Handel
Love Sounds th’Alarm from Acis and Galatea, George Frideric Handel
Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde, Richard Wagner
Images: Leah Durner