Q&A with Wisconsin native artist Martel Chapman - deeply inspired by jazz, translates auditory energy into visual energy

"Jazz is a black artist music. There are monumental messages in the history of the music. The artists behind these sounds stand tall over the history of the world. Jazz always has reaction and perspective on the days events. Jazz is always going to be an important part of the changing world we live in."

Martel Chapman: The Art of Jazz

Heavily influenced by music, Martel Chapman creates a world driven by jazz musicians and musical instruments. In a great effort to Rescue a traditional style, Martel uses Cubism as his basis to develop his complex compositions and deliver a musical atmosphere with his portraits. “After drawing here and there as a kid, I first took art seriously after hearing Coltrane. I have been painting evere since "Blue Train" was re-issued in 1997. I had the honor of having my work on display at the American Jazz Museum in Kansas City in the summer of 2007. I am exploring the connections between cubism and improvisation in my artwork.”

When Martel Chapman first came across John Coltrane's "Blue Train" re-issue in 1997, he did not realize that this music would change his life. "I hadn't recognized what artistry was until that point," Chapman recalls. "I listened to the opening theme a dozen times on my way to work that day. A year later, I quit that job and decided that my main energy was going to be dedicated to the music of jazz and the individuals that created it." Deeply inspired by jazz, Chapman, a Madison, Wisconsin native, translates auditory energy into visual energy. The resulting images are as enigmatic and complex as the musicians who inspired them.

Interview by Michael Limnios               Artworks © by Martel Chapman

What were the reasons that you started the artistic researches? Where does your creative drive come from?

I was always drawing as a kid. Comic book superheroes to athletes to caricatures of classmates and co-workers. But I hadn’t taken art seriously until I came across the re-issue of John Coltrane’s Blue Train in 1997…  I always had music around me, from rock to metal to hip-hop to soul, and I loved the jazz samples in hip-hop but I was looking for something deeper, but I didn’t know what that was really…

The iconic cover by Francis Wolff drew me in; Coltrane in deep thought between takes. That was the first time I had ever heard of a musician being an artist. An artist! Those opening horns to the title tune have been vibrating in my bones ever since.

What is the hardest part making a portrait? What touched (emotionally) you from the faces of jazz musicians?

The hardest part is finding time to put the ideas to canvas. I love the early sketches from the original idea and the eventual process of the whole piece. I love seeing how the piece grows and changes as it develops.

My recent pieces are related to concepts of movements as as sculpted pieces. I also like to combine the artists with one of their compositions, as I have with Eric Dolphy’s (Hat and Beard) Hats and Beards and Thelonious Monk’s Epistrophy. Others are based on creating the artist of subject as an African Mask, as I have with Mask / Modern Saxophonist (Marcus Strickland). I try to as much as possible of the artist when I work, as if it is a small biography.

"The music and the artists influence me every day. The music allows one to open their mind in many ways, and for me, to investigate the music visually. The music leads to other trains of thought as well. You begin to pay attention to the artistry in everything, so you begin to look further." (Blues / Oscar & Camus, coffee and a decision / Artwork © by Martel Chapman)

How important was music in your life? How does music affect your mood and inspiration?

Music is the drive behind my work. The work is how I’m paying it back to the artists that have given me so much. I’ve been taking with my friend Lue (an incredible poet) about various things in art and inspirational individuals, and whether or not these individuals are doing something meaningful.

Lue would say that for instance, if a ball player is toiling on a last place team, and not gaining or not sharing in their glory, that perhaps they are just writing love letters to no one… I believe my work is a series of love letters to jazz musicians. I have music playing all the time. I need to. I might miss something inspiring; I might learn something new. I needn’t be directly inspired by a musical piece, but the sounds I see will be vibrating all around me, becoming tools and shapes that represent the process of the work.

What do you miss most nowadays from the Jazz of the past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

I don’t miss anything. I love that the music was created when it was. The core of the art form has it’s roots firmly planted. And I’m finally getting into today’s music. I love recognizing the growth and changes of the art form. It’s still alive, it’s aging and evolving right before our eyes.

Do you consider the Jazz a specific music genre and artistic movement or do you think it’s a state of mind?

I think it is both, and it needs to be both. This makes it identifiable in what it is. The uniqueness of the art form comes from unique experiences of the black artists. It is black music. It is as identifiable as any language. There is deep meaning inside of the music.

"Music is the drive behind my work. The work is how I’m paying it back to the artists that have given me so much. I’ve been taking with my friend Lue (an incredible poet) about various things in art and inspirational individuals, and whether or not these individuals are doing something meaningful." (Monk Red Wall & The Son / Artwork © by Martel Chapman)

How has the Jazz culture and music influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

The music and the artists influence me every day. The music allows one to open their mind in many ways, and for me, to investigate the music visually. The music leads to other trains of thought as well. You begin to pay attention to the artistry in everything, so you begin to look further.

What is the impact of Jazz music and culture to the racial, political, and socio-cultural implications?

Jazz is a black artist music. There are monumental messages in the history of the music. The artists behind these sounds stand tall over the history of the world. Jazz always has reaction and perspective on the days events. Jazz is always going to be an important part of the changing world we live in.

What would you like to ask Picasso and Thelonious Monk? What would you like to say to Miles and Bird?

I would have liked to see Picasso paint at a Monk concert. Other than that, I wouldn’t want to bother them. Just see them work. I did have a dream years ago with Picasso in it… I was his caretaker in his later years. We were laughing together, like we were getting away with something.

Where would you really want to go with time machine and what memorabilia (artworks, records) would you put in?

To see Monk at the 5-Spot. See Coltrane at the Village Vanguard. Bring paintings I have done of them and set them there at the stage and leave.

Martel Chapman - Fine Art America

(Sun Ra & John Coltrane / Artwork © by Martel Chapman)

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