Watch Brian Eno’s “Video Paintings,” Where 1980s TV Technology Meets Visual Art

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.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Bri­an Eno on Cre­at­ing Music and Art As Imag­i­nary Land­scapes (1989)

Bri­an Eno Once Com­posed Music for Win­dows 95; Now He Lets You Cre­ate Music with an iPad App

Day of Light: A Crowd­sourced Film by Mul­ti­me­dia Genius Bri­an Eno

How David Byrne and Bri­an Eno Make Music Togeth­er: A Short Doc­u­men­tary

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.

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