Milisa Valliere: Hearing Colors in Music

     If you happened to notice an Airstream trailer towed by a black pick-up truck while driving last year, you may have spotted artist Milisa Valliere and her husband Roland. An adventurous couple, the two decided to pack up their things and hit the road during the summer of 2012 to promote the artist’s paintings and, perhaps, seek inspiration.
     "I find inspiration in everything, especially life," said Valliere when explaining her creative process. "I notice the good, the bad, the beautiful, the ugly. Once you develop the art of noticing, all in the world is canvas-worthy." All the world, and all the sound as well. Professing that she hears music in color, Milisa said her recent series Inspired by Music simply translates the emotion of music into a different medium.
     With the help of Roland, who is the president and CEO of the Memphis Symphony Orchestra, Valliere scouts her next source of inspiration by first choosing a memorable moment in history that relates to the current calendar day—usually a musician’s birthday, death day, or album release. A corresponding song is then selected. Sometimes it is performed by the inspirer or, other times, it simply reflects the inspirer's legacy.
     Her paintings have sprung from rock, blues, jazz, and classical, demonstrating a range of musical influences as broad as her color palette. "I'm a constant explorer," she said. "I find inspiration in everything to keep myself amused." In the slideshow below, Valliere explains what sparked selected paintings in her music series.

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Colorful oil painting on canvas
Redemption

Song: "Redemption/Moon and a Bridge/Bird on a Wire"
Inspiration: Johnny Cash's birthday (February 26, 1932)

I feel this is one of the most interesting of all the paintings in this collection. I would call this a symbol painting. I heard little phrases. The little symbols just fell into the painting. Cash talks about how "the blood gave life to the branches of the tree." I feel that's the central part. The central figure--the most confusing--looks quite sexual, but it is a still-birth, an immaculate birth. It is the fruit that sustains life. But, there's also heaven and hell. It's a struggle, and there's a lot going on here. I think this is the most interesting because when you listen to Cash's music, you hear more. You see more.

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Colorful oil painting on canvas
Hot House Flower/Billie Holiday

Song: "Lover Man"
Inspiration: The day Billie Holiday died (July 17, 1959)

Billie Holiday--probably my favorite singer to paint to. A few evenings before painting this, my husband was telling me some of her early history. It was obvious in her music, the sadness. She was born to a child and abandoned by her mother, she dropped out of school at ten, and was raped at age 11. She was prostituted before she turned 14 years old. She's a tragic figure. She's a caged flower. She is not free. I portray her as a beautiful rose garden caged in her tears. Yet, if you look closely, there's a lock. I found it while walking home and glued it into this painting. It symbolized what she must have done in order to survive. She just locked all of that pain up and survived in spite of it.

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Colorful oil painting on canvas
Glass Nymphony

Song: Glass' Symphony No. 9
Inspiration: First performance of Symphony No. 9 by Phillip Glass (January 1, 2012)

The first time I was inspired to paint Phillip Glass I was working on three other paintings at the same time. I called it Glass Nymphony because, when you go over the bridge in Monet's garden to where the water lilies are, it's called the Nymph Garden. I thought this seemed like Monet's garden but with twisted colors, more fall colors, like fire water. It started with a very thin, gray line structure. Then it built on top of that. It's just very tranquil. The piece of music is just majestic and very haunting. Then it would have these little notes that just didn't fit in. Those notes are on the other canvases. This one is when the music was very tight and panoramic.

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Colorful oil painting on canvas
Ode To Freedom

Song: "Ode To Joy"
Inspiration: Fall of the Berlin Wall (November 9, 1989)

I went to Berlin with a woman who took me all over the city just to see great art. It was a whirlwind of emotion. The people are still dealing with the past, but they don't wear it on their sleeves. When I came home, I didn't really think about the meaning of it all. I didn't process what had happened there. All I wanted to do was smoke, to relax. Then, I thought about the wall. I thought about all of the people who had died trying to escape. I knew it was the day to paint my experience. I just knew it. I went outside and started. I usually paint two [canvases] at a time--I can work on one and then do bigger strokes on the other. I started this painting, but, when I finished, I knew it wasn't quite right. It was dark and heavy. My paintings usually come from dark places, but this one was too much. It didn't tell the whole story. So, I painted over it. At the bottom, it's dark. It looks like a trampled field. But, then, the crosses turn into trees. Something is underneath, but you don't know what it is. Then, there's the light. I wanted to capture the light; like being in a bowl and looking up. It's hope. It's truth; a beautiful and intellectual place.

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Colorful oil painting on canvas
Cabbage Rose Wallpaper

Song: "On the Run"
Inspiration: Release of Pink Floyd's album Dark Side of the Moon (March 24, 1973)

This particular painting is a memory of Lolly Caldwell, my neighbor who lived in the house next door when I was five. She was my best friend. She was very poor. I think they lived on ketchup sandwiches. I loved going up to her room, this little ransacked room in the attic. She had this glorious peeling wall paper of these big roses. The music is disturbing. It sounds like an emergency or alarm. It's not comforting. Lolly was burned in a fire one night while stepping out of the bath tub. There was a little heater in the bathroom, and her nightgown got caught and she went up in flames. She had so many skin graft operations, but she still had the most beautiful smile and golden, curly hair. I thought she was courageous, and that's what made her beautiful to me.

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Colorful oil painting on canvas
Gymnopedie

Song: "Gymnopedie (Satle)"
Inspiration: The day Herbie Mann's album Nirvana was recorded (December 8, 1961)

I wonder what Herbie meant by "Gymnopedie." I've looked it up, but can't find anything. This music is very tranquil, but there's movement. Something is moving through the water. It's not still. It's like there's a stick bobbling along. I wanted some colors to be bright. I remember getting excited over the cobalt blue I had made. I mixed it in some linseed oil and another medium. It became very slippery, and when it was wet it was glistening. White, generally, in my painting is spirit. Here, it's reflection. This does seem like a question and answer kind of piece, like the conversation between the flute and piano.