Igor and Johnny (2007)




Acrylic on canvas 914mm x 610mm


Music is fundamental to human culture, and some would argue to language itself. The human auditory system at the lowest level is able to differentiate chord from dischord, while the brain itself is hungry to find melody, rhythm and structure from almost any vaguely musical source. However, sometimes culture – and neural expectation – can be shocked by the sound of the new, and strong primal emotions released.

Igor Stravinsky is considered to be one of the most influential classical composers of the 20th Century, John Lydon has been a huge influence on ‘rock’ culture since he first appeared with his band The Sex Pistols in 1976. Both of them produced music which was to induce revolt and riot in those first exposed to it. Stravinsky’s first performance of The Right of Spring in 1913 caused such differences of opinion in the audience that fist fights broke out. Similarly, public outrage in response to the Sex Pistols notorious interview with Bill Grundy led to John fearing for his very life, and performances on the subsequent tour of the UK frequently resulted in crowd violence.



Igor Stravinsky

Stravinsky was finally ‘understood’ and his genius rewarded once the audience had time to prepare themselves for the onslaught of new sound. In fact, within a few decades, the piece of music which had caused riots in Paris, was used by none other then Walt Disney in the film Fantasia – which prompted the quote of his you see on this painting: “My music is best understood by children and animals”. Similarly, the Sex Pistols now seem somewhat tame in comparison to where some rock music has traveled since the days of punk.



John Lydon

What is interesting to me is that both these musicians were able to produce a profound, non-intellectual response to their music. Listeners quite literally ‘lost their minds’ when their cognitive systems were overwhelmed by the newness of the noise and performance before them. By producing something so at odds with the prevailing culture they were able to change it’s very landscape – in what could be considered a paradigm shift in the cognitive capabilities of their listeners.

It is one of the perversities of the human mind that it seeks out what is new and shocking and almost immediately assimilates it and diminishes its power.

I’ve painted Igor at 31 – his age when Rite of Spring was first performed, and Johnny at 21, as he was in 1976 when the Sex Pistols first performed. This painting is a departure from my usual themes of Scientists and Philosophers, and is the first, aside from my personal first hand portraits, to feature a living subject. I trust that should John stumble his way to this corner of the internet he will see fit to leave a comment…

As usual, I have made a time lapse recording of the painting process:

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