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Bill Callahan and Paul Ryan
Sydney Morning Herald May 26 2015
When the painter meets the musician this week at the Vivid Sydney festival, it will be a meeting of the senses.
Thirroul-based artist Paul Ryan and Texan singer-songwriter musician Bill Callahan have admired each other's work for years but have never met.
Ryan paints listening to Callahan's music. This week at the Sydney Opera House, Callahan will sing to Ryan's paintings.
"I literally can't paint without music," says Ryan, an acclaimed landscape and portrait artist who has been nominated for the Archibald prize 11 times. "It stimulates my mind and feeds into the painting. Bill's music is like taking a ride on a dusty American back road somewhere. He's not talking about a pretty, mainstream America; he's interested in the contradictions and the dark beauty of it. That fascinates me.
"There's something about his voice, too. He has a very deep voice with a very slow, deliberate delivery that is just powerful. I often use music and literature or poetry to somehow feed through me to help my paintings have some gravitas and integrity in the paint."
Callahan, whose style has been compared to that of Leonard Cohen, came across Ryan's work when the painter sent his record company an email asking for permission to use his music in a documentary film about his art practice. Callahan said he would give permission if Ryan sent an artwork he could use on his next album cover, Apocalypse. He loved it so much, he asked Ryan for paintings for his next releases, Dream River and Have Fun With God.
No money has changed hands. "It's quite nice to have some exchanges that are completely moneyless," Ryan says. "We all need money to live, but some things are so special that money is just not a factor."
Ryan's paintings will be projected behind Callahan when he plays at the Sydney Opera House this week, as part of the Vivid Sydney festival. Ryan will be at both concerts.
"I don't know a lot about art," Callahan says. "But what really interests me is that he's a contemporary painter who's doing the kind of landscapes that have been done for hundreds of years. They have a vibrancy and something very sensory about them. I feel like I can smell the trees. I can feel the air and the temperature. I feel like I'm actually sitting there seeing the things that he's seeing. Landscapes can be kind of distant and dry, but Paul's paintings are really wet. In that way, it's kind of psychedelic to me. There's also a mysterious edge to them that take it to a level beyond just a landscape. There's a feeling either something good or bad is lurking in the painting."
Ryan says he prefers to listen to pensive music when he's painting because it reminds him of a yearning for "something indefinable that has been lost". "It feeds into my personal story," he says. "I was adopted, and even though I was brought up by incredible people and I have a wonderful family, at the heart of every adopted person is the idea that you were taken away from something before you could even understand what that something was. I find melancholy music particularly stirring and beautiful, in that sense, and I just love the way that feeds into the way I work."
Bill Callahan plays at the Sydney Opera House on May 28-29, vividsydney.com. Paul Ryan has an exhibition of paintings at Big Fat Smile Gallery in Corrimal until June 20. All proceeds from his exhibition goes to an art scholarship program for disadvantaged and refugee children.
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