Music and Painting. Interview with Michael Bell

Music and Painting. Interview with Michael Bell

Music and Painting is the topic of this new interview with Michael Bell. Enjoy Michael Bell weekly section on Yareah MBELLART

I.R.- Hi Michael, how is life? We have never talked about music. However, a painter always loves music and I imagine you will have your preferences. Does music inspire your artwork? Do you work with music or you prefer silence?

M.B.- Hi Isabel. Life is good. And you are correct, a painter always loves music. Music makes us “feel” something. It connects us to our emotions in powerful ways, just as a powerful painting should, in my opinion. There’s a very strong connection, in my opinion, between images and words…and music. If you hear something that moves you, it gives you images in your head, some from the lyrics, some from the music itself, sometimes both. Those images are what we, as visual artists, pour back into the world visually through our work just like musicians do through sound and lyrics.

I actually just had this conversation with an amazing group of “the best of the best” student artists in the country that I teach. I referred to the connection as this – “If you’re into hardcore rap music…If this is who you are at your core…does your artwork reflect this? Or does it feel like you’re listening to classical music when someone looks at your work? Or vice-versa?” The point was, does your work look like “you sound?” Are you drawing a line from your life to your art that is straight and clear? These same truths I look to inspire in the visual journaling movement I’ve championed over the past ten years. Does your visual journal become the visual playground that actually “looks and feels” like you from cover to cover? Does it best reflect the process behind your work?

As for me, yes Isabel, I often paint to music. I make playlists on Pandora in my studio, and when I’m at home I’ll lose myself in my iPod headphones and will often paint to the same few songs, playing them over and over again to sustain the same energy the music makes me feel for a particular work. For instance, when I was commissioned to paint a large portrait for best pal Dominic Capone which will be unveiled in 2014 on his new reality TV Show “The Capones” I painted the entire portrait listening to a more nostalgic, darker playlist that included “The House of the Rising Sun” , “How to Save a Life” by the Fray and “I am the Highway” by Audioslave. It was just where my head was at the time.

Music and Painitng. Interview with Michael Bell

M.B.- I also listen to all different types of music. From Big Band 1920’s music to Billie Holiday to Sinatra and Tony Bennett to the classical music of Claude Debussy. Sometimes I’ll hit the ‘60’s and ‘70’s or alternative rock for inspiration. Other days I’ll just play Pink Floyd’s entire “Dark Side of the Moon” album. When I’m feelin’ old school I’ll click on some Eric B & Rakim, Mobb Deep or MC Shan.

I.R.- Critics say Kandinsky was the master who painted the music better. I know Abstract art isn’t your favorite. But how about Kandinsky? In my opinion, he is great and precisely, for being able to paint the music. What’s yours?

M.B.- It’s not that I completely despise abstract art. I have an appreciation for abstract art that excels in concept and execution. It’s the kind most elementary school-aged kids could produce that I don’t appreciate. You know what I’m talking about. Kandinsky’s work was compelling in my opinion because he was original for his time. He sparked the movement. He focused in on a precise, minutely calculated idiom all his own, a formulation of points and lines, combining and contending with each other to create curves, circles and significant geometric figures. He was technically very expressive through these means, and he also explored a wide range of colors and symbolism. His architectural projections of psychic and spiritual realities which artists sense intuitively became the source of his inspiration.

I.R.- In a show of your artwork, supposing you can invite whoever musician around the world, who would you choose and why? Which kind of music is near your artwork? I’d say Jazz but maybe I’m wrong.

M.B.- Tony Bennett. My wife and I danced our wedding song to his iconic “Because of You” and he autographed our wedding album photo with its title. I’d love to see Tony again and have him at one of my shows. I respect him greatly as both a singer and visual artist. And you’re right about Jazz. I’d be curious to hear what music your readers hear in some of my works on . Although it’s so much better to own one and live with it in person, it’s a curious question to hear what others “hear” and feel while looking at my work. The National Portrait Gallery in Washington D.C. now owns “DUKE ELLINGTON” by Tony Bennett. Bennett has been a serious artist as long as he has been a singer, and he donated this watercolor and graphite on paper portrait of Ellington to NPG in April 2009.



Jazz Legend Duke Ellington by Tony Bennett. c/o National Portrait Gallery

Jazz Legend Duke Ellington by Tony Bennett. c/o National Portrait Gallery

Enjoy your week, Michael.


View Comments (1)
  • Lisa Perfetti

    Wonderful article. Best wishes to Michael Bell.


is renowned American painter and muralist, famous for his larger-than-life sized narrative series paintings and for his infamous portrait clientele, which includes the late Mob Boss John Gotti, best friend Dominic Capone III (Al Capone’s great nephew) and numerous actors from The Sopranos, Goodfellas, A Bronx Tale and more. Yes, his works are the mirror of a tragic world, but they deepen our human psychology with strong brush strokes and vivid colors, from personal memories and silent echoes, with courage and creativity. Bell was naturally gifted in art and won 1st Place in his first juried art exhibition at age 5. As an emerging artist he spent a lot of his time in and around New York City, studying art with his maternal grandmother, Violet Vallery, a self-taught artist from Lyndhurst, New Jersey. Then, after the still-born death of his sister Amanda and the sudden passing of his Grandfather, a former professional boxer, Bell began to explore life's personal and psychological issues through his paintings. In addition, Bell has written his first screenplay based on the real-life events surrounding his famous "TICKET TO RIDE™" painting series and has won three national awards in 2013. Bell exhibits his large, narrative series paintings in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles.

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