Mahler's First




Beethoven's Ninth


Moonlight Serenade


Lei of Stars


Wild Ginger


Firebird and Pizzicata Polka




Pregnancy Suite


The Symphonies~Suites

Suites~ the concept

The concept of painting multiple-canvas suites based on my response to, and interpretation of, a particular composer's work came from a sudden inspiration. I had been requested to do several smaller works for a solo show to complement the larger sizes in which I usually work. I had stretched four smaller canvases of varying dimensions and placed them on my studio floow in order to contemplate how I would approach their accomplishment.

mahler beginning

As it is customary when I work, the strains of classical music wafted through the studio--fortuitously, a symphony. Although my eyes were focused on the four canvases, my mind drifted from the task at hand to responding to the music surrounding me. Suddenly a thought came bursting through: a symphony is a musical composition of four (or more) parts in which each part not only stands alone but also contributes to the whole. The whole, therefore, becomes one unified composition, greater than the sum of all its parts. Could I do the same in paint? Could I PAINT a symphony IN FOUR PARTS?!

Thus ended my attempt to produce small works for that show. Instead, I painted larger works comprised of four or more small sections!

Mahlers first


As I contemplate painting a particular symphony, my first step is to decide on the size of each canvas and relate it to the "size" (length or impact) of the corresponding movement in the symphony. The most important movement is the largest. Next, the canvases are arranged in an interesting composition. The third movement, most iften a dance movement lighter than the others, usually floats above the second in the composition.

Then come the colors. The hues I select must be in keeping with the overall "color" (mood) of the symphony: bright, vibrant, somber, lively, sophisticated--whatever. While each of the chosen pigments is used in every canvas, the intensity or tome changes in keeping with the particular movement.: a lilting movement in lighter, airier tints; an earthy one in shades of deeper earth tones; a somber one would be darker, grayer.

Then while listening to music, I organize the composition on the floor of my studio and start laying in the basic colors, pattern, and tempo flowing from one canvas to another. Collage, if used, contributes to the unity of the suite by continuing in adjoining movements. Next, each canvas is worked at the easel in order to correct and develop the individual compositions, then put back with the other canvases for further refinement.

mahler piece 3

Verna painted her suites both as one thematic unit, and as each painting individually, so they could stand alone as an individual work.

This back-and-forth process continues until each movement of the symphony stands alone as a fully realized work and yet contributes strongly to making the total composition a unified whole.

mahler piece 2

This process of reworking produces a depth, through the overlapping of many layers of paint, that parallels the multi-dimentional quality produced in music by the sounds of the various instruments and sections weaving in and out of the composition. By using intervals of the same colors throughout the work, the theme-and-variation aspect of a symphony is also interpreted.

A symphony's musical statement is made through the unification of all its parts by key, thematic phrase, mood or some other composition tactic. I use color and a sense of movement as the unifying factors. From the beginning, colors on the edge of one canvas are carried over into the adjacent canvas to give a continuity. Gradual strengthening of this patterning develops as the compositional adjustments are made in my multi-step process. As the work nears completion, the strongest unifying factor of all appears: a sweep of pigment traveling through the piece, in keeping with the rhythm, tone and tempo of the music.


A symphony's musical statement is made through the unification of all it's parts by key, thematic phrase, mood or some other compositional tactic. I use color and a sense of movement as the unifying factors.

The sense of elapsed time encountered in music by the return of the theme phrase at intervals throughout the work is more difficult to state in a static art form. My attempt to achieve this dimension involves the overall us of each color moving from canvas to the next and ending with an overlapping of another color. Yet this same color appears elsewhere in that movement or father on in the next.


The installation of a symphony also reinforces and restates my intent. Each movement is placed separate enough from the others to emphasize its own individuality and yet close enough to be influenced by, and contribute to, the larger whole. The separate hanging also enhances the sensation of elapsed time because of the space intervals the eye must travel in going from one canvas to the next. This spacing is carefully chosen to make sure the whole group remains one unified composition.  

verna working on suite


All of these compositional elements are my means, as a visual artist, of expressing my deep emotional response to music and to the moods portrayed by the composer in a particular symphonic work.

Verna Brady, 1996

suite in brochure

Brochure ofKathleen Schwandner, Fine Arts Associate (Corporate art)

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