Toccata is one of my earliest works, and also one of the largest canvases I have ever attempted. It was started and completed on a dreary winter Saturday in 1994 and hasn’t really been touched much since. While I love it conceptually, I’ve never been completely satisfied with the execution of it, and to be honest I’m a bit embarrassed by how raw it is – never had a chance to refine or clean up the rough edges at the time, and it’s a bit too late now.

Toccata was an attempt to paint a piece of music – a seven and a half minute instrumental by the same name based on the Fourth Movement of Alberto Ginastera’s 1st Piano Concerto, arranged by Keith Emerson and performed by Emerson Lake and Palmer. It’s a very complex, meandering, experimental track – packed with synthesized sounds and loops, morphing from dramatically violent passages to calm spacey sections and even features an epic drum solo that starts with gongs, tubular bells and timpani and ends with electronic drum loops. I listened to it on repeat while painting until the batteries ran out on my discman, then took a break for lunch, bought new batteries, and went back to listening to it until I was done late at night. Needless to say, I haven’t listened to it much since then. I started with a very violent and explosive underpainting – in synch with the music. As I refined it, I inserted elements that I was hearing. I wanted it to have depth and deep space, and to invoke sounds in the ears of the viewer. I did some questionable things like stick pieces of dried paint from the inside of paint cans to the canvas. I didn’t stop to think much – the music was too overbearing to allow for it. When I left that evening I didn’t return to the studio until Monday afternoon, when it was to be critiqued by the class.

Toccata clips by khusroks

When I saw it again on Monday, I remember being impressed but at the same time disappointed by what I had created. The critique was particularly contentious. I was attacked on the grounds that a depiction of music shouldn’t have recognizable forms (clock, bell, etc.) but should be more abstract – indeed most people who tackled that assignment produced works similar to Kandinski’s compositions. I countered that recognizable sounds instantly conjure up recognizable forms (e.g. the sound of a dog barking makes you think of a dog) and my piece of music – a short section of which was played for the class – was rife with recognizable sounds that ended up being depicted on the canvas.  I don’t think the consensus was with me and I remember leaving that critique feeling like I might just dump it or start from scratch and paint over it. I’m glad I didn’t.

Regardless of its flaws, I do think Toccata is a particularly affecting piece of mine. There’s no doubt that its size has an impact on the viewer, and it’s probably the piece that I’ve heard more people cite as their favorite of my works.


  1. Isaiah Sullivan says:

    I really love looking at the piece and the music together, I know the feeling when you just put your mind on repeat and zone out, when in the state of creation. Nice stuff! Hope to see ya in New York! peace, Isaiah