Brian Eno, the well-known music producer, resident intellectual of rock, “non-musician” musician, “drifting clarifier,” and popularizer of ambient records, went to art school. (The Colchester Institute in Essex, specifically.) Anyone familiar with Eno’s career knows that English art school of the sixties must have perfectly suited his interests and inclinations. But read up on his generation of U.K. popular musicians, and you’ll find art school not a wholly unusual rite of passage. That background united several of the members of Roxy Music, the band in which Eno would hone his sonic craft (and build his notoriety) in the early seventies. Though music would offer him his highest peaks of fame and fortune, Eno never quite forgot that he’d originally entered art school with the intention of painting. Attending an exhibition of his 77 Million Paintings a few years back, I delighted in seeing his interest in technology and composition intersect with his penchant for the visual arts.
Rewind, now, to the eighties, where we find another, equally fascinating example of Eno continuing to “paint,” but in a technologically rethought manner. You can now watch his “video paintings” of that era on Youtube. Here you can see Thursday Afternoon, his series on the female form (some of which, despite approaching abstraction, could potentially be considered NSFW, though any mainstream gallery today would show them openly). Just above, you’ll find an excerpt from his series Mistaken Memories of Medieval Manhattan. It may not look like much, and indeed, Eno’s initial process involved little more than accidentally leaving his camcorder recording on the windowsill. But bear in mind that the actual installation involved screening the piece right-side-up on a television itself turned on its side — a simple recontextualization, but as those who saw the original have assured me, a striking one. Rainy-day project: try replicating that setup at home. I think Eno would approve.
Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on literature, film, cities, Asia, and aesthetics. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall.