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Invitation to impulse: Local artist brings improv to Hingham, Scituate

Posted by Jessica Bartlett  February 8, 2011 03:15 PM

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Peterson photo

What do pens, music, and a 5x3 foot piece of paper have to do with South Shore libraries? For artist Lennie Peterson, everything.

Peterson, a former Berklee College of Music professor and local artist, will bring his artist demonstration “Un-think It (The Art of Flow)” to the Scituate and Hingham libraries this month to explore what he explains is a practice in spontaneity.

Done to live music, Peterson will draw an intricate portrait of a famous composer, using the sounds of improvised music to influence his work.

“It was recently I started thinking how to represent music more through art, and started looking more at Chuck Close and Andy Warhol,” Peterson said.

The large-scale silhouette-like portraits, representing only half the face of a famous composer or musician, grow in complexity and intensity the closer you get.

Patterns that look like shading jump off the page, blocks of grey become thousands of tiny lines, dots, and swirls. For Peterson, who has conducted a dozen demonstrations throughout the country, the improvisational aspect is what drew him to his style.

“The main focus of this is to have people emphasize beyond the improvisation. [I] try to encourage people to trust their instincts more,” Peterson said. “That’s what they are experiencing in the room, it’s [South Shore musicians] Tom [Hall] and Mark [Campbell] working off of their instincts more. I’m letting my hand go, trusting my hand to work out a project.”

Peterson will use the ambiguous and open aspect of his work as a metaphor for living. Being spontaneous is something that requires practice, he said, and is something he works on every day.

“[When my friend and I get somewhere new], we promise we’re going to walk for an hour and get lost. I always say to people, I don’t expect them to be that adventurous, but I want them to develop that trust,” Peterson said. “The best experiences in life are the ones that are unpredictable.”

It is this open style that drew Kathy Meeker, the director of Scituate Town Library, to bring him to their venue.

“This program is really special and we are fortunate to be able to offer it to the Scituate community,” she said. "It peaks your interest to see how an artist would complete a work to music."

Peterson is looking forward to the live demonstration as well. Although many of his more intricate portraits can take weeks, Peterson will have to finish his demonstrations in an hour and a half.

Yet the energy involved in working on the piece in front of a live audience is worth it, he said.

“I would say that at least half of the experience for us [is performing live]. What happens is there is a definite energy triangle to the whole thing; I’m feeding off what music they are making up, and the audience is feeding off of that, and feeding it back to Mark and Tom. It’s a great energy triangle. And we’re all influencing each other,” Peterson said.

The only aspect of the performance set in stone is the composer Peterson will portray, which is usually based off the musical repertoire for the evening.

In Scituate, at the Town Library, Peterson will give a demonstration of Duke Ellington with live jazz music from Campbell and Hall. The event will take place Sunday, Feb. 13, from 2:30 to 4 p.m.

At the Hingham Public Library on Sunday, Feb. 27, Peterson will draw Miles Davis while Campbell and Hall perform improvised jazz. The event will take place in the Whiton Meeting Room from 3 to 4:30 p.m.

At the end of the portrait demonstration, Peterson will play trombone on a piece from the respective composers with the two musicians.

The event is free for all attendees. Any money earned from presentations and art sales will go to Why Me, Inc., an organization helping children with cancer and their families.

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