Colour theory: Brian Eno reflects on light and listening in his new tome

Colour theory: Brian Eno reflects on light and listening in his new tome

Roxy Music, the late David Bowie, Talking Heads, U2 and the Sydney Opera House have all benefited from the artful influence of Brian Eno. Last spring, so too did Paul Stolper gallery. This small but important space located in the shadow of the British Museum presented Eno’s ’Light Music’ exhibition, the works from which now form an eponymous tome released by the gallery’s acclaimed art-book imprint.

Depending in which circle you’re standing, Eno is arguably best known for his work in ambient music. He coined the phrase and contributed massively to its proliferation. But Eno is also a celebrated visual artist, having exhibited globally since the 1970s. Through the colourful pages of Light Music, Eno explains how his multi-disciplinary talents come from the same place. ’Painting and music have always been interwoven for me,’ he says. ’I started playing with light as a medium at about the same time I started playing with sound when a teenager.’

Surprisingly, Eno’s preoccupation with light art can be attributed, in part, to Walt Disney. ’My uncle Douglas had borrowed an 8mm projector and some reels of Disney films,’ Eno writes in the book’s introduction. ’He didn’t have a screen, so he set the projector up to throw its image onto the kitchen wall. I have no recollection of what we saw: but what I remember, even now, was the visceral impact of that intensity of colour.’ On each page of Light Music this potency and depth reveals itself in technicolour rainbows.

Examples of Eno’s ’Tender Dividor’ lenticulars. Editions of 100, exhibited at Paul Stolper gallery in 2016. Courtesy of Paul Stolper, London

Eno’s art is rarely seen or exhibited without musical accompaniment. For last year’s ’Light Music’ exhibition, he composed a new piece that played for the duration of the show. With this in mind, seeing his artworks silently staring from the pages of a book is a completely novel and particular experience. In quiet moments of reading, the works can be appreciated for their physical appearance alone. Readers can dedicate sole attention to their gently fading gradients and Mondrian-esque geometries.

This sense of quiet meditation is picked up on by author Michael Bracewell in the book’s introduction. ’He creates a space for the contemplation of individual experience,’ Bracewell writes. ’The viewer / listener is invited into a meditative situation - to be in the present.’

Installation view of ’Light Music’ at Paul Stolper gallery, 2016. Courtesy of Paul Stolper, London

Though the book soundlessly concentrates on the visual aspect of Eno’s oeuvre, there’s still musicality in its pages, achieved through Land Ahoy Ltd’s thoughtful book design. The London-based company chose to present gradually shifting views of Eno’s artworks. When you flick through the pages, the artworks seem to dance, as if tuned-in to some silent Eno soundtrack only they can hear. Capturing two inherently performative elements (light and music) in a 2D printed format is never going to be easy. But through this flick-book technique, along with satisfyingly textural pages and lively header graphics, the pages pulse with an energy that reflects Eno’s live works.

Eno fans will be clambering to get their hands on Light Music, as the busy book signing earlier this week attested - Stolper’s slim gallery was bursting at the seems with animated Eno enthusiasts. Even if you’ve never heard of Eno (where have you been?) this book will also appeal to those who have an interest in beautiful art objects - no small thanks to Stolper’s ever-impressive publishing efforts.

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