Vance Kirkland

On the return trip from Breckenridge yesterday, we stopped for a visit to Denver’s newest museum – the Kirkland Museum of Fine and Decorative Art. Thanks to Paul Hughes, a museum guide (and former New Yorker and art gallery owner) who gave Renee and I a personal tour of the museum. I had never heard of Vance Kirkland before, but loved his art work. Over the years, he moved through many different styles, creating distinctive and moving work in all of them. Most interesting to me was that he experienced synesthesia and listening to music at night (Mahler, Shostakovich, Bartok) filled his mind with colors which he employed in his painting the next day.

His larger works needed to be painted with the canvas flat on a table – and to reach the center, he floated above the table on a system of straps. In his “dot” paintings of the exploding stars and nebulae in the vast expanse of space, he floated like an astronaut, with no up or down to his paintings. We learned that periodically the museum displays those paintings in different positions, as the artist wanted them to convey the non-directionality of space.

As I stood in front of one of his “dot” paintings, Paul Hughes told me that it was estimated to contain about 75,000 dots. While he told me that to convey the immensity of the painter’s effort, it struck me that, as a composer, that wasn’t a huge number. I lay down thousands of dots all the time.