Artist Statement: Ottmar Liebert on “Guitar and Pipe”

The following statement by Ottmar Liebert describes his creative process for the song and video piece, “Guitar and Pipe”, named for the Juan Gris painting of the same name in the DMA’s collection. Liebert’s original work was commissioned by Arts & Letters Live in celebration of the exhibition “Cubism in Color: The Still Lifes of Juan Gris“.  

Juan Gris, Guitar and Pipe, 1913, oil and charcoal on canvas, Dallas Museum of Art, The Eugene and Margaret McDermott Art Fund, Inc., 1998.219.A-B.McD

Over thirty years ago, I learned a musical intro from a Flamenco guitarist who told me that for him, this was the ‘phrase’ that embodies flamenco best. For this piece, I used this ‘phrase’ in the intro as the location marker to signal Spain. Similarly, Juan Gris uses the guitar as a symbolic marker of Spain. The music begins with this location marker.

For me, Cubism is about multiple angles and points of view and the many different ways of looking at and interpreting an object. I translated this into sound by recording a guitar rhythm, then playing the recording back at half-speed. I also reversed some of the guitar sounds and removed the string attack from others.

Many of my favorite Cubist pieces include collages. The mid-section of the music is from an altogether different piece, also in a different key, to which I played a new melody. When this section ends, the rhythm guitars return, still at half-speed, and upright bass and cajon now play along while new guitar melodies are added. The music ends with the same chord with which it starts.

Visually, I concentrated on the guitar and a pipe, both featured in Gris’s painting Guitar and Pipe. The pipe in Gris’s depiction is rarely used these days. For this reason, I chose to interpret the object differently, as a water pipe, but also to have a little fun with it. In my video, the guitar is seen from the outside as well as from the inside. By slipping a camera into the guitar, I achieved a new perspective—inside looking out. This not only allows the audience a different, more expansive view of the instrument but it affords the viewer a more visceral interaction with the instrument. I also flew a drone right underneath the ceiling, to photograph myself playing from above. Close up and long shots connect to the cubist notion of shifting perspectives. While making the video for this piece, I attempted to stay within the color palette of Gris’s Guitar and Pipe. To do this, I created images in shades of browns, yellows and sienna, and incorporated white, blue and black as well. Switching between black & white and color afforded a visual dynamism that I’ve always associated with this artistic movement.

Ottmar Liebert in Santa Fe, New Mexico, February 2021


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