Musical artwork on display at Caswell Gallery this week

If a picture can paint a thousand words, music can conjure a thousand images and then some.

Such is the conclusion the viewer draws from the Painted Violin Project of the Portland Youth Philharmonic Association, which supports two full symphony orchestras, a chamber orchestra, a wind ensemble and one string orchestra. Each group is made up of outstanding musicians who range in age from 7 to 23, come from communities across the region and represent more than 100 different schools.

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - A collection of painted violins is on display at Caswell Gallery in Troutdale. The violins will be sold at auction to benefit the Portland Youth Philharmonic.

A number of painted violins commissioned by the PYP are on display this week at the Caswell Gallery in Troutdale. The violins are painted or adorned with one or several images, ranging from a black and white painting of Niccolo Paganini, the famed composer, by Sophie Zhang, to Kristin Qian’s “Stars and Stripes,” which turns the instrument into a red, white and blue emblem.

On display

Since February, the painted violins have been displayed in galleries throughout the Portland area, including Caswell’s. The philharmonic will host a gala exhibition and auction of the violins at 5:30 p.m. Friday, April 19, in the Governor Hotel, 614 S.W. 11th Ave., Portland, to raise money for the orchestra. A number of members of the PYP played a reception at Caswell’s on March 15 to encourage interest in the upcoming auction.

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - Four Strings by Lisa Onstad.

One of the violin’s painters is Ellie Phillips, 14, from Oregon City, who created a collage of images on the instrument and called it “Universal Language.” The neck of the violin is inscribed with a quote from the 19th-century poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow — “Music is the universal language of mankind.”

The violin’s painter says the Longfellow quote sums up her feelings about song and composition.

“It doesn’t matter how different people are,” Phillips says. “We all kind of share this same medium of connection.”

Phillips says she spent hours and hours sanding the violin, then putting primer on it and drawing on it. She glued pictures and photographs to it and used acrylic paint to create a vibrant work of art that depicts a flamenco dance, Earth and other objects.

“I just tried to blend the pictures together as much as possible so they looked unified,” Philips says.

The young artist won a fan in Kathy Toynbee, general manager of Caswell Sculptures Inc.

“It’s a mixed media piece, and I love the flamenco dancer,” Toynbee says. “There’s a bit of romance there.”

Phillips is a member of the PYP, and although she can play the violin, last year she switched to its slightly larger cousin, the viola.

“There’s a lot less violists than violinists, so the demand is a lot higher for violists,” she says, noting she has her eye on a professional career down the road. Her mother is a voice and piano teacher, she says, so music runs in the family. She also says she was excited to be invited to participate in the Painted Violin Project.

“How many opportunities do you have to paint a violin?” Phillips asked rhetorically.

On that note

In addition to young amateur artists such as Phillips, the PYP invited professional artists to create artwork out of the instruments. One such artist was Damien Gilley, 35, of Portland, who created “Crystalizer,” which attempts to represent the process of creative thought.

“My piece reacts to rhythm and repetition within a deconstruction of the characteristics of sheet music,” he says. “So the side of the violin represents the five bars of sheet music, but the front of it depicts the gradual decomposition of that rigid structure.”

Gilley says he hopes “people see the synthetic, angular marks as a beautiful, poetic deconstruction of the act of composing music.”

As for Phillips, she hopes folks will seriously consider supporting her musical program by coming to the PYP auction.

“PYP helps us develop our skills in music and in that way helps us in developing our skills in connecting with people,” she says.

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