Music paintings with Sarah O’Dowd
“Soundlessness intensifies my visual response” may seem something of a paradox, yet for profoundly Deaf visual artist Sarah O’Dowd her work highly demonstrates rhythmic flair and a well-structured composition also found in music.
Inspired by nature itself, her paintings execute dramatic, romantic subjects by emphasising luminosity and atmosphere. Most of her work centres around three main colour choices that complete the picture stretching between the lightest and darkest of tones. There’s also unity/variety, balance, emphasis, movement from the brush strokes, pattern and other elements of composition, to convey the intent of the artist.
Born and bred in Northumberland, Sarah began her artistic development at a very young age and went on to Newcastle University to study B.A in Fine Art. The outdoors is a key inspiration which brings interpretation in her work injecting light and colour to her paintings. Sarah is married and is a mother to twin teenagers, a boy and girl who are at secondary school. She enjoys reading, photography, walking and taking her dog Maddy out.
In 1996 in ‘Artists and Illustrators’ Sarah wrote, “My choice of landscape as a subject matter, is influenced by Northumberland where I live. I am drawn to the power of it’s wild hills and coastline which inspire me to try to capture their beauty and drama. I love skies and admire the landscapes of Emil Nolde and Turner and while in a contemporary style like to keep something recognisable by maintaining certain points of reference”.
When I saw her waterfall painting of ‘Hindhope Linn’ by following her on Instagram, I knew I had to buy it. I could sense the energy of the water flowing in the painting and a few months later I whisked away with my two boys to meet her and to see the waterfall itself in the deepest part of the forest in Northumbria, close to the Scottish Border at Carter’s Bar on a very cold and windy day.
Through the calm misty forest and muddy terrain, by the time we found it the delight took my breath away. It looked so much like the painting and while there is a big flow in the middle, there is also another waterfall but pouring out thinly, giving Hindhope Linn a character. It was an extra special moment as there was absolutely no one around, with the forest canopy above our heads moving in the wind. We listened attentively for any sounds of the crashing waterfall, the flow of the stream, the smell, the touch and the breeze in the forest. It was magical, and I can see how she transfers these energies to her painting.
When we returned home she invited us in for a cup of tea and biscuits. She showed me that most of her work is done in the studio based on sketches and photos taken outside, and the natural late morning – to afternoon light is an important time to work on her paintings. She uses oil, acrylic and oil pastels. She often uses and washes down her work with turpentine to create a hazy, atmospheric feel to her work.
As a Deaf musician, I have always been drawn to the visuality of music. I wanted to connect and try a small collaboration using her visual ideas and my music score. Although she went to a mainstream school that did not give her any music opportunities when she was younger, through our conversations in British Sign Language, she could instantly see how these music ideas could relate to the ideas of painting colours. Here are some of the examples below. It was a short and sweet meeting with possible future developments.
Ruth Montgomery, 26/12/18