Conversation with Morgan Szymanski

Sally: What gave you the idea for The Sketches of Mexico ProjectIt’s unusual for musicians to collaborate with visual artists, can you tell me why you have done this?

Morgan Szymanski

Morgan: As a hobby I enjoy sketching, painting and drawing. I initially thought of doing some sketches for the artwork of this CD, but instead I decided to invite friends who are doing well in the Mexican arts scene…a much better option than my amateur sketching abilities!

This project came up as I was jogging in the Peak District, the idea of doing a sketch for each musical piece came up and then the idea of concerts-exhibitions. I also thought of visiting each place represented in the musical pieces and making videos of me playing each piece in it’s inspirational home, but this would require a larger team of people and would be more expensive. The idea is still on the cards. I had to think of a way of using the internet and social networks, to keep costs down. Then friends started recommending artists to me. I was delighted so many agreed to take part.

Although I have never heard of a project quite like this, combining music and visual art has led to some magnificent works. The likes of Kandinsky and Monet come to mind. In music, Debussy and Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition” will never cease to amaze me. I must also admit that Miles Davies’s “Sketches of Spain” had something to do with it too.

Sally: You have asked visual artists to respond through their artwork to the imagery that the Mexican music conjures up, now that some of the work has been completed by the artists is it what you expected to see?

Morgan: I initially wanted to give the artists certain limitations in size, or perhaps asking them to stick to one particular piece of music. I eventually decided to give them free-reign and just listen to the music for inspiration. The outcome has been incredible. Today I have over 30 works by artists from the UK, Portugal, Mexico and China. I am still waiting for a few more too! Such a great number of images means we have a tough job in choosing which ones to use, where and how. We will make 20 postcards and will choose some for the CD cover artwork as well as exhibitions, youtube videos, facebook page and live projections during concerts using VJ’s.

Sally: You said you have an interest in making your own art-work, you travel a great deal playing your guitar in many different places, are you tempted to visually record the countries and your experiences? After being in Cyprus this summer I began to use more colour in my paintings, do you feel your music is effected by different environments?

Morgan: I have always enjoyed art whether looking at it or creating my own. I take a sketch book on all my travels. I have some very bad sketches of China, Argentina, Chile, Mexico, Macedonia and Zimbabwe but it is merely for my own pleasure.

Music is hugely influenced by traveling. It has the amazing power of gathering people together, regardless of race, age religion or language. I have inevitably absorbed and learned new things from all these experiences.

Sally: You plan to take the music into schools, why your interest in education? Why do you feel it is important to educate British children about Mexico? How do you see the project unfolding?

Morgan: I believe musical education is essential in order to nurture our future musicians and audiences. It is an investment. I have always enjoyed working with children and thought this was a great opportunity. This side of the project focusses on creativity. Creating artworks from listening to music or viceversa. The immediately attractive aspects of Mexican culture are great inspiration for me. The food, the people, the music, the colours, culture and history. Each workshop can include a final show and a performance.

Sally: You told me that your mother is Scottish and your father Mexican, my father was also Scottish, I grew up hearing him singing Scottish ballads encouraging us to join in, did you hear Scottish music when you were growing up and has this influenced your music? You went to Edinburgh University, apart from the weather how does living/studying in Scotland compare to living/studying in Mexico?

Morgan: Both my grandparents on my mothers side were born in Scotland and although not musicians they enjoyed music. My grandfather was always whistling and singing old Scottish tunes. After living in Scotland and studying music there I also ended up playing with lots of scottish musicians and bands. Scottish music has had a strong influence on me. Living and studying there was a completely new experience, having to fend for myself was tough as well as leaving my family and friends, but it was a rewarding and unforgettable experience which changed my life.

Sally: I feel at a loss if I don’t carry my sketch book and pencils with me and feel frustrated if I miss an opportunity to draw, is this how you feel if you are unable to play the guitar? I am painting you from drawings I made of you while you were practicing it is as if when you begin to play, the guitar becomes an extension of your body – as if you become one. This is what I would like to convey in the painting, does that make sense to you or does it sound mad?

Morgan: Not mad at all and very true. Even if I am on holiday I feel strange if I don’t play every day. It is like an addiction, something you grow old with, you live with, a companion, a language, meditation, release. It’s like breathing! It is your voice, you sing and express yourself through it. It is part of you. 

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