Published March 21, 2023
A constant doodler who had drawn and painted since childhood, jazz musician Miles Davis wrote in his frank, profane, and wildly entertaining autobiography “Miles”, “art was like therapy for me and it keeps my mind occupied with something when I’m not playing music”.
While many musicians have a penchant for visual art, Davis, from a young age, had cultivated a tacit understanding of the connection between audio and visual. He experienced a high degree of synesthesia, a phenomenon that means to “perceive together”. After understanding this, Davis’ musical work became so influential and powerful. He understood music on a different level giving it an edge that had never been matched.
In his visual art, it is easy to see the influences of Picasso. The Promethean artist to whom Duke Ellington compared the style-shifting musical innovator - African art and American action painting, Davis painted a stream of bold, color-splashed abstract images often riffing on female figures that bring Picasso, Pollock, de Kooning, and William Baziotes to mind. While most would agree that Davis was a far greater musician than a painter, his work carried the fierce intensity of his music. His art work was described as a swirl of entwined dancers, androgynous lovers, and fantastical cartoonish figures he called “robots”. Davis also pointed out that his art was either a dance or an orgy, and whichever way one would perceive it, it’s got “the feeling… those are some bars of music with women stretched over them–that’s the way I see music sometimes”.