Poulenc & Joosten: The work of a painter (2020)

1 January ’20 > 1 June ’21


Synesthesia. The ability to see colors when hearing sounds. Or sounds heard when seeing colors. In 1956, composer Francis Poulenc wrote Le travail du peintreThe work of the painter. Poulenc was inspired by the eponymous collection of poems by Paul Éluard, who in turn was inspired by paintings by avant-garde artists, including Picasso and Chagall, with whom he was friends or well known. Perhaps this is not literally synesthesia, but mutual influence comes close to it.

When the corona crisis broke out, intendant Waut Koeken came up with the idea of ​​having the song cycle Le travail du peintre performed, accompanied by a visual interpretation by painter and set designer André Joosten, who designed the sets for the postponed production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Opera Zuid . The crisis has not left Joosten in the cold: “When the pandemic broke out in the Netherlands, I was working at the Dutch National Opera on a production of Die sieben Todsünden by Brecht and Weill. I would paint live on stage during the performances. When I had well and truly gotten over the nerves and stage fright, we were told a few days before the premiere that we could go home… These are wonderful times and I’m actually just over the worst dip.”

It was clear to Joost that he wanted to do this project: “I was not familiar with the cycle Le travail du peintre , but I had already taken Poulenc to my heart. The intention was that I would make a work of art for each song, live, just like with the Todsünden actually. But that form was difficult: the music lasts about twelve minutes, and then I would hardly have time for a single thing. Still, I immersed myself in the material, being a bit intimidated by the artists who inspired Éluard and Poulenc: Picasso, Chagall, Braque, Gris, Klee, Miró and Villon. Those names! And the music of that world-famous gentleman and that famous poet…”

In the end, the result was slightly different from what was originally intended. Joosten: “While listening, reading and watching I made a number of works of art, seven responses to seven songs.

The seven works of art that Joost made all have their own color and identity. Very distantly you could recognize something of the style of Picasso or Klee, but they are autonomous responses from one artist to another. A large yellow-red eye is reminiscent of Miró, but Joosten always bends the recognition in his own style: “It is an interesting reaction to this material in bizarre times. That is why I take Le travail du peintre – The work of the painter very literally!”

The canvases painted by Andre Joosten for this project will be auctioned in the autumn. Proceeds will go to charity.


Artist André Joosten