Medium: Oil on canvas, 4’ x 4’ (121.92 cm x 121.92 cm)

Start date: August 2013

End date: April 2014


The next in my continuing pseudo series exploring synaesthesia and painting: T.O.R.N.A.D.O., based on the song of the same name by British band The Go! Team, a six-person group heavily influenced by “indie rock and garage rock with a mixture of Blaxploitation and Bollywood soundtracks, double Dutch chants, old school hip hop and distorted guitars.” (Source: Wikipedia)

Anyone who knows me with any sort of intimacy also knows of my love (bordering on obsession) for The Go! Team. Their third album, Rolling Blackouts, was released back in early 2011, and the aforementioned track is the grab-you-by-the-throat opener. When I first heard “T.O.R.N.A.D.O.,” the response was immediate: I saw a face, relatively nondescript, being shifted and distorted by the heavy, cacophonous sounds—especially by a rather powerful rhythm section-based opening salvo that repeats eight times throughout the track. The way in which the face was being shifted around changed a little each time I listened: at first it was like peering in through windows in descending fashion as the tones changed, while what was on the other side was changing in concert.

I put the project on hold for a while, then in the summer of 2013 I started sketching again, only this time the more I listened to the track the more the windows shifted and became wedges rotating around a whole. This time the manner in which they distorted the image in my head was more of an inversion—a flipping of tones and colours. Still the face was a blank slate, so I decided that if I was going to take this project on as my next piece, that I needed an established image in which to ground the abstraction. Enter: Ninja, the lead singer of The Go! Team. It made sense—use a face associated with the track itself and to distort and play with it as needed:


After that it was a matter of listening to the song many, many times, breaking each sound down not in actual one-to-one music notation (because I suck at listening to a note and telling you what’s being played), but merely discovering a baseline and then writing down how the sounds are differentiated from one another. This was done to help keep track of future colours necessary for the fourth and final phase of the canvas. The sketching evolved during this phase to better represent the intention of what would be the final product: to craft something that looked like it had some sort of momentum, like the colours themselves were half spiralling into a vortex (the rhythm), while the voice and the shorter, more staccato-like instrumentation would then come out from the centre, blooming like a mechanical rose.

From there the process was handled layer by layer, each one representational of the whole in its own unique fashion. The base layer, the foundation, was simply light and shadow, a black and white dilution of the image with no shading, no grey scale whatsoever, and absolutely no hard lines of division—what’s shadow in the original sketch is black on the canvas, and everything else is white.

Up next, the bass/rhythm section wedges. As previously mentioned, these were the primary source of distortion, inverting the original image of the face. So everything that was shadow in the first layer, is white in this layer; everything that was white in the first layer, is colour in this layer (more on the specific colour theory later), travelling from the outside into the centre—starting strong and descending to a point similar to a vortex.


The third layer was the vocal track—or, again, an approximation thereof. While the rhythm wedges start at the outside perimeter of the piece and descend toward the centre, the voice comes out from the centre, growing to more of a point.

The final layer was the rest of the instrumentation—the horns, if you will. Like the vocal track, these small (sometimes painfully small) wedges are meant to be read as coming from the centre, as if erupting from the lowest point on the bass line and growing into something new.


The colour choice is uniform throughout. Seeing as the lead singer of the band is black, I opted to use associative colours for all steps along the way: meaning that the bass wedges of the second layer are the colours used the make the foundation and warm and cool shadows when blending tones for black skin; the fourth and final layer of instrumentation is the tones used to create the highlights; and the vocal track between the two is the actual blending of all the colours.


Hours spent: best estimate, between 300 and 400 (and at least 200 of those hours spent working through a massive podcast backlog).

Shirts ruined: three.

Trips to massage therapy to fix my back: two.

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