CAN you capture music in paint? Artist and choir member Alfred Huckett set himself this challenge in his record third residency at the York Early Music Festival, where he has spent the past fortnight painting and drawing at rehearsals and performances.
He is the only artist to have been asked back so many times by Ann Petherick, from Kentmere House Gallery in Scarcroft Hill, who has collaborated regularly with the festival on the residency scheme.
"Alfred's approach to the residencies is based on his life-long love of music, and his ongoing involvement as a singer in an early music choir in London," says Ann.
"Both his work and his presence around the festival have been enjoyed by all concerned, as he immerses himself in the music, the venues, and the interactions with the performers."
His previous residencies were in 1995 and 2010.
"In those years, I worked from relatively figurative ideas, painting musicians in York buildings, and moved on to a freer approach more concerned with the movement of the musicians," he says.
He was observing musicians once more when What's On interviewed him at The Cardinall's Musick's rehearsal in The Quire of York Minster last Thursday afternoon, but he was reacting as much to the blissful 16th century music as to the a cappella singers. "Depictions of the music itself is the area that now interests me: neither abstract nor figurative, but based on the actual piece of music,” says Alfred.
"You do look for different ways of interpreting what you see and hear, but after the last residency, I said to myself, no way am I coming back, but I'm here again, looking to find a different way of portraying music, and the attempt is progressing, going more towards the abstract. I'm looking for variety, so I've heard Jordi Savall's Hesperion XXI in the opening concert with the Spanish/Jewish interplay of the music, and Pietro Locatelli's music, played by the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, both at the Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall.
"And I love the music by the Spanish composers sung by The Cardinall's Musick in the Minster."
The task, suggests Alfred, from North London, is to find an analogy between music and painting.
"Some aspects are easier than others; there is rhythm in music as there is rhythm in painting, and you can follow the line of a voice, which can be like a drawn line," he says. "But it's more complicated when you get harmonies and modulations, which suggest different blends of colours.
"As a preliminary to doing this residency, I have a friend who's a composer, Andrew Campling, and I was lucky enough to be around his studio as he worked on his piece for piano and soprano, Stabat Mater, so we could discuss my ideas.
"The challenge now is to get musicians to accept the linking of two art forms, so that they can see an appreciation in painting of what they're doing."
Alfred listens, paints what he hears and also uses manuscripts to break down music into bars that he can interpret in paint. "I look for repeated patterns in music, which is another device I can capture," he says. "I'm also looking to convey the layering of the voices and yet the clam stillness of the music."
The paintings and drawings produced from Alfred'ss festival residency will be exhibited at the National Centre for Early Music, in Walmgate, from December 6 to 20, to coincide with York Early Music Christmas Festival.
The work will emerge in two forms.
"One will be drawings, which I shall work up in my studio and will be more figurative," he says. "The other will be oil paintings that I'll work up from manuscripts. To get one paining, I shall do lots of paintings, probably 20 for each one, because it needs refining. It takes time to get the right colours for the music."
Alfred is confident that music can be expressed in painting and drawing in a form viewers will comprehend.
"I've always been taught to look at a painting first, without reading any information around it, because if it's not working visually, it's not working at all," he says. "I know a painting has to be 'read' by people when it's finished and I have to enable people to understand what I'm doing. That's what I must do."
There is a further motivating factor behind his new work. "My partner is becoming deaf and has come to appreciate classical music in the past ten years, and I've often thought it would be nice to paint music for deaf people, and so my partner will be one of the judges of my work," he says.
And so can you be in December.