In the moment: an ode to live art

I enjoy the silence before it begins. Although it lasts only seconds, it feels like time has stopped. Everyone in the room holds their breath, excitedly unaware of what’s going to come from the women on stage. I’m sat cross-legged on the floor between these women, wondering what the audience thinks of us, wondering if they are just as intrigued by them as I was when first introduced. The paintbrush twirls in between my fingers anxiously and the rainbow pallet of paint glimmers under the lights. It’s messy and would make most organized painters cringe to death, but I like it that way and so do the girls surrounding me. My eyes close in anticipation. I never know when it’s going to start, and I’m always surprised when it does. Suddenly a beautifully haunting note from Lara Jones’ saxophone pierces my skull. I smile to myself and let my head roll around my neck. I look like the world’s worst yoga teacher but I don’t care: I’m where I belong, doing live art to live music.

Deep breaths. I let Jemma Freese’s keys and Megan Roe’s guitar notes fill my soul like the saxophone has, and the brush takes a dive in to the paint. I don’t see which colour I choose, but I feel the rhythm flowing through me and flicking across the canvas, creating swirls and patterns. Jemma’s soothing voice echoes around the room and the painting intensifies in time to the music. The lyrics hit all our hearts because we are connected fully in that moment. As friends, we are always connected but in music it is something else. A feeling we will know but keep to ourselves.

L-R: Megan Roe, Lara Jones and Jemma Freese of J Frisco. Jess’ art layered over the top. Photo by Richard Storrow.

Once the first song’s over I show the audience my painting, head up to the stand, get a comforting applause and ‘Woo!’ from the girls and sit down to be in awe of what comes next. I always am with those three. My eyes close again and I listen to the rest of Megan’s final recital performing with Lara and Jemma as J Frisco. The experimental music trio have been performing together for a few years now and have played at various venues in the UK, more frequently in Leeds where they are currently based. A mix of keyboard, guitar and sax, they perform songs written by all three, sometimes with lyrics and sometimes without. It doesn’t usually follow a conventional beat and is often improvised. Another common practice by the band is to pick a theme or a word and use it as a base from which to get emotions. For example, for the event described above, we were painting to the theme of rejecting gender conventions, something that all four of us are passionate about doing. Usually though, the audience doesn’t know what’s going to come and neither do the musicians. That’s kind of the point, and because J Frisco are so like-minded and talented in their respective fields, they always play off each other’s improv as the gig goes on. I believe the main purpose is to make an audience feel. Everyone listening to their music will feel something different, which is where the experiment comes in.

Gif by Megan Roe. Illustration and art by Jess Brown.

Hearing experimental music that not only breaks conventions but tells a story is truly inspiring to me. Being a part of it on stage is beyond anything I could have imagined happening this year as an artist. Live art has only happened a handful of times since February but each time has lingered in my memory. The effect is also two ways. The painting I created was part of the music as the music was part of the painting. You don’t have to sing or play an instrument to be part of a song. You don’t have to use a brush to be a part of a painting. However, abstract art merging with experimental music is not a subject I’ve seen covered so much. I look forward to performing more as time goes on and I find myself in new places and new cities. More than anything though, I look forward to sitting with the girls again and creating from what we feel.

I’m not a musician and I don’t know the ins and outs of the industry. I’m trying to learn piano, and hanging round with the wonderful musicians is helping me learn the ropes, but for now I’m just an artist and a writer. I flip between both but can say wholeheartedly that when I do live art with John Frisco, I feel more alive than I ever have when doing anything else that’s creative. The best part is I don’t have to know exactly what’s going on technically: it’s purely about the connection between music and art, how they sync together based on the emotions and senses. I paint not only to the rhythm but how it makes me feel.

I’m so grateful to Megan, Lara and Jemma for introducing me to this world. The Leeds music scene is beautiful and has helped me flourish creatively in only a few months. The future doesn’t seem brighter it seems abstract. And that sounds incredible.

Jess Brown

Images: Richard Storrow, Megan Roe & Jess Brown

Cover image shows the art Jess produced in session with J Frisco

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