Painter of music

``I discovered a method of translating music into color patterns,'' says the American artist Ellen Banks. ``It occurred to me that color is music. The music I love inspires the art that I love and serve.'' Ms. Banks is a painter and teacher of painting at Boston's Museum of Fine Arts School. Earlier she studied piano at the New England Conservatory of Music. She had to make a choice between music and art as a career. And art was her choice.

Both talents come into play as the artist interprets music on canvas in a form of dual art. She uses shapes and colors to symbolize notes and rests. The paintings, quite specifically, portray music.

For example, in ``Goldberg Variations by Johann Sebastian Bach,'' Ms. Banks uses distinct primary colors and large clear rectangular shapes to represent the clarity of Bach's music as displayed in the counterpoint of the composition's first four measures. The colors resemble those often used by the Dutch painter Mondrian.

By contrast, in ``Sonata Opus 13, Allegro, by Ludwig van Beethoven,'' each note has its own shape and soft, rich color. The color gray points out accidental notes. Natural canvas shows through in spaces for rests. Black and white shapes symbolize Beethoven's strong musical contrasts; for example, the precision of a long run in two or three beats followed by a slower passage.

Another contrast appears in painting the music of the Brazilian Heitor Villa-Lobos. He wrote compositions with nature-oriented titles, such as ``Dawn,'' ``Jungle,'' ``Crab.'' Ms. Banks's ``Dawn'' depicts that time of day with simple rectangles. Coming out of a subtle, deep-blue background are soft shades of rose, orange, and blue-violet resembling nature's colors. She showed some of her Villa-Lobos paintings in Brazil this summer.

Earlier, in 1979, Ms. Banks received a Ford Foundation grant to visit the Soviet Union and view its Constructivist art movement (a post-revolutionary Russian art and architecture period influenced by tenets of Futurism and Cubism). During her Soviet visit she met with art dissidents. In 1983, on a sabbatical year, the artist studied with Cesar Domela, one of the original members of the Amsterdam De Stijl group, in Paris; and with Hans L. C. Jaffe, the late art historian, in the Netherlands. And in 19 83-84 she became a Bunting fellow at Radcliffe College.

At present one can find more and more composers on canvas in Ms. Banks's studio. Many of her Bach paintings will be in her show of recent works, ``A Celebration of J. S. Bach,'' scheduled for the month of November at the VanBuren Brazelton Cutting Gallery in Cambridge, Mass.

We organize and control space, time, movement, color, and sound, so why not synchronize music and color on canvas? Ellen Banks says:

``For a few years I played the piano in mornings and painted in afternoons. Sometimes I listened and then painted what I heard -- always the dual needs.''

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