Kilford - The Music Painter

Laura Bruneau | Friday, 23 July 2010

Kilford - The Music Painter

Sitting in the bar of The Social, with its long counter and almost 50s style booths, Kilford looks like an anachronism himself. Considering that he is part of an emerging talent scene in the capital, he appears set in a comfortable nostalgia for the past. Even his dress-code is reminiscent of a bygone era as he dons Lennon-esque red-tinted sunglasses, perched on the bridge of his nose for style rather than practicality.

His contradictions do not end there. Arrogance is matched by his philanthropy and pretension is tempered by a rare openness. On stage he commands a formidable presence as he listens intently to the music in an almost hypnotic state, painting every colour that the music suggests to him. Whether onstage in front of thousands or just over a hundred people, he seems most at home when he is performing in paint.

We sat down with Kilford before the sound check for his monthly One Love residency to drink a pint together and probe further into the mind of a man who is more active on social media than Stephen Fry and still finds time to paint with sick children and get on stage with Iggy Pop. One question we maybe should have asked him was when does he ever find time to sleep…

What inspired the One Love project?

What inspired it? Well, I played down here with The Charlatans and also Magic Numbers and St. Etienne and it felt very, very comfortable, even though it wasn't because it was absolutely rammed. One Love was a movement that I started early last year and everyone kind of caught on to the whole music and art coming together as one, so what I did was call it One Love because it seemed sensible.

Previous to this, I sent out thousands of stickers, like 50,000 I think we're up to now, where I just post them out free to people and also I do like 300 paintings each year and just post those out as well so people get art and can collect art. They dig it and they understand that it's about a unionship between art and music.

So now, this is a place for people to come and see that actually happening live which doesn't really happen anywhere else, well I don't do it anywhere else. I'm perhaps not the only person that is interested in mixing music and art together, but no one's doing it on this scale which is kind of tingly really. Not wanting to sound arrogant, or maybe it does sound arrogant but fuck it, it's the way it is.

What do you see as the importance between the aural and the visual?

It's critically important. Like, the music changes the colours that I'm seeing as I'm painting the picture. Also, I think it links in like different instruments, different pitches within instruments, different musical notes and also I think there's a big buzz, you'll see it tonight, from the audience as well, so I think that plays some part in it.

But for me, specifically, it's umm, it's just allowing myself to get into a place where the colours come out so the painting comes alive and then I just copy those colours that I'm seeing really.

What goes through your head then when you're up on stage?

Nothing, absolute nothing and that's the key. The challenge is to get into a state of mind where there's absolutely nothing going on, so it's absolute purity. This is how it works for me, to get into that kind of zone is quite difficult and you have to let everything go, it's almost in a medative kind of state. So you have to get to that kind of position before you can allow yourself to be free enough to just go with it.

When I was painting before, when I first started, I remember I was painting The Feeling and then I painted The Charlatans and I was always thinking, fuck man I hope the bands really like it, I hope the managers like it and all that kind of stuff. But then I realized that, actually, it doesn't fucking matter if they like it or not, I've just got to allow myself to do whatever happens at that moment in time and the only way to do that is to be completely void of absolutely everything in the whole world that's going on, even in your own mind and heart and just allow you to be in that complete presence of moment. Absolute now-ness. Does that sound a bit fluffy?

Not really. Do you feel there's a marked difference in how and why you work in both monochrome and colour?

I don't really see any difference at all, because when I'm working with the sketches in the monochrome, I'm actually working in colour, I'm just using a monochrome tool. So, what I do, when I sketch a song, I'm still seeing exactly the same thing, but I'm just like putting a line around the shape and around the colour that I'm seeing.

So, for example, maybe there's a red blob that comes out during the course of 'Boom Boom Pow' or something, I'll just put a line around that as a sketch. Whereas if I was painting it I would kind of put the red on it.

So you don't feel that working in black and white limits you compared to colour at all?

No, no I don't. I think it's just a different style of freedom. The thing is with the sketches, and also the paintings, is what you're actually doing is looking at a medium of music in a completely different format. Because when you're listening to a tune, you're actually only listening to the current position in time for that music. That might be like two minutes five, two minutes six, two minutes seven, you're only listening to that specific moment and you're remembering all the stuff before that right, and you don't know what's coming either.

So when you've listened to the song, all you can remember is like the outline of a certain specific part, but you can't remember the whole thing. But when you look at a sketch or a painting, what you're actually looking at is the totality of that song. Not in a sequential way either, you're looking at it front on. Does that make sense?

Yeah, though it could be hard to get your head around. Correlations between sound and art aren't altogether new. Did the work of artists such as Len Lye, or anyone else, inspire you?

No, no. I don't really know anything about any other artists to be honest, apart from big classics. I've never been really inspired by an artist, like a painter or someone like that, that's been interested in art and music at all. I think Hurst is spectacular, but then again Vivienne Westwood blows my mind artistically and John Galliano is just fucking amazing. So those kind of things inspire me on a different level, but it's music really, for me, that does it.

I went through a stage where I didn't go to galleries and all that kind of stuff, because I was scared of being influenced by these different painters. Which I know sounds a little bit blinkered, but when I was in a band when I was younger, I just listened to The Rolling Stones and Oasis. We wrote loads of really cool songs, but they just sounded like Oasis and The Rolling Stones. So, I was influenced completely by those guys and whilst the songs sounded cool it wasn't new, it wasn't breaking any ground at all.

So what I then did is stayed away from all galleries. I remember buying this really cool book from the Guggenheim museum which I went to. I had to go to the Guggenheim, you can't not go to that, but I bought the book from it to remember the stuff and I just drew out all of the pictures, got someone to marker them out, and just read about the artists and stuff, because I was just too scared of being influenced. But now, it's slightly different, like I go to the Tate quite often and stuff, but I don't generally go out and actively try and be inspired or look at other painters.

I do like seeing people that create things based on like the One Love stuff. No other painter really kind of makes me excited to be honest. Pollock does of course, but that's because I love the story. I love what Banksy's doing, but, other than that, what the fuck is going on these days with painting? There's nothing, it's just boring old fucking horrible drivel, really. I don't see anything else that excites me. I'd rather stick to what I'm doing myself, that's exciting.

What do you hope to achieve from your work?

That's probably the most enlightened question I've ever been asked. I hope it inspires people to paint pictures and to make the world a bit better. Which sounds a little bit Miss. Universe, I know, but I spend quite a bit of time with kids and getting them to paint music and stuff about how they feel about certain different music and it's great to see them do that.

People on my Facebook put postings up and pictures of different songs that they've been painting and things like that. So, I think inspiring people to be creative as well is a very powerful thing, but I've kind of achieved that already to some extent. I mean if one person is inspired by you, that's kind of cool right?

Do you think that the digital age is devaluing art and music now that everyone has access to capabilities and tools that only professionals had access to before? Does the influx of new material devalue art or just diversify it?

I think that modern technology today is so much better than what it was 30 or 40 years ago, because it makes people more creative and it makes them think differently as well. If I take myself, as a painter, the concept of me sitting in my studio on my own and having a show in some gallery every two years in London, and only coming out then but never actually engaging with people that buy my stuff, because the dealer speaks to them, and I just carry on about my life, that's fucking boring man. Really boring, and I don't want to be any part of that so, for me, digitally, it keeps me sane, it actually drives me.

Like the Facebook fans, they energise me to carry on painting, because otherwise I fucking would have given up a long time ago I reckon. For sure, seriously, it's tough being a painter. How people engage with fans and how they're creative with different technologies, I think it just makes it better. There's more art now than there ever was I think, so that's a good thing right?

Does the style of music you work with have an effect on the way in which you create your art?

Yeah, yeah it does. I'm always going to be an indie boy, that's it. I was brought up with Oasis to start with. I got into the Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin and all that stuff through my dad and then Oasis came along and that was it, I was hooked. That's why I started a band, and I started painting because I was in a band. I owe that to them actually.

So I'm always indie, but then I've got a massively eclectic taste. I'll listen to anything, absolutely anything, but I only really sketch stuff that I like and that I think is cool. If something makes me kind of tingle in some way, then that's what I'll do. So I won't paint, like, shitty songs. Which sounds a bit bad, but why would you want to create something based on something that you don't actually like?

I think that there is quite a difference between some of the music, although it's the same kind of style I think. I remember painting with a choir and Damon Albarn on a Greenpeace boat in the middle of the Thames, it was like the most surreal thing ever. All it was was just voices and Damon was just playing these like four chords the whole time and it was spectacular, but a lot of the voices came through and the painting, I think, is quite different to a lot of the other stuff. If you look at, for example, the Black Eyed Peas painting compared to the Damon Albarn painting with the choir, it's completely different I think.

Why did you decide to do such a small intimate residency after having done such big shows?

Because intimacy is the way to go. With the musicians that I invite down here, it's not about how famous they are, or how great they are, well actually it is about how great they are because they're all great. That's the thing, I don't ask them just because they're on the front of NME, there's a whole mix. I get a lot of CDs, I get a lot of stuff sent to me online, so I listen to all of it and the stuff that makes me tingle we reply back to and say do you want to come down.

I painted with The Charlatans down here and that was one of the most epic gigs ever for me. It was great, and the reason it was great was because it was just so intimate. I was literally with my easel, next to John, and the sweat was coming down his arm, I think, onto the drumstick and then flicking up on to me. That's special man, and the people that were here were loving it.

There's something very fabulously non-fabulous about having a small, intimate venue, and this place is very cool because it attracts a lot of cool people, particularly on a Monday night you know? Monday night is like a filter, so all the people that just can't be fucking arsed to do anything, they can all stay at home, but all the people that are passionate about music and art, they all come out and that's the beauty.

Why did you decide that the profits from One Love should be going to charity?

They go to one charity which is called the Sam Buxton Healing Trust. I've worked with them for four years now and have donated some paintings to them. Also, I've gone into UCLH (University College London Hospitals) and painted pictures with the kids about music and stuff like that. These are kids who are suffering from cancer and things and it's important work that they do and it touched me.

Do you think that people still care as much about music as they used to?

I think we're in a whole different world here. If we look back at The Who, if we look back at Oasis, if we look back at all that kind of stuff, the difference with them is that they fucking changed the culture. People would start swaggering around because of Oasis, people started fucking bands because of Oasis. I'm getting tingly just thinking about when I first went to see them at Birmingham NEC. That's proper power and I think that that doesn't exist so much today.

I think that there's a lot of great stuff out there, but I don't think that there is a band, at the moment, that is having a cultural impact globally or nationally to be honest. There's nothing to really grab hold of like The Beatles or Oasis or Zeppelin or fucking anything like that. I think there is a lot of stuff which is fucking good, but that is also good because you have such a big selection of stuff.

So, I'm not even sure if I've answered your question, but do I think that people are still passionate about it? Yeah I do. I think they're even more passionate about it, to some extent, because they can actually create their own. They can download some software, bish, bosh, bang, thank you very much and they've created some kind of track or started to learn, and that's great.

Do you think that your performances can help people form connections to music and engage with it through seeing it visually as well as hearing it?

I don't think it will help people connect to that thing I was just talking about, that cultural thing, but what I do think it does is it opens people's minds more to themselves via music. For example, a lot of commissions that I have, for single song paintings, will be the song that's important to you. What's your song? If I were to paint your song, like one song that you get, and I'll paint it, what song would it be? It would be something that is reflective of one special moment in your life.

Generally, a lot of people's is their first wedding song or something like that, or it's just linked to something that's important. So music, for me, has always got the upper hand on painting and it's in that order, music, then there's painting and then there's all the other creative arts.

Kilford is confirmed to be painting Iggy Pop and Iron Maiden @ Sonisphere - Knebworth 31st July to August 1st and Orquestra Buena Vista Social Club @ Standon Calling on August 8th. His monthly residency One Love takes place at The Social on the third Monday of every month.