Public Work Painting and Drawing
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Tatum Tatum1 Tatum2 Tatum3

Art Tatum Memorial

Dimensions variable


The Sculpture

A low carved granite wall arcs through a plaza of granite pavers or stamped architectural concrete that could include a historical timeline highlighting significant events of Tatum’s life and career. This timeline could be punctuated with bronze castings of small artifacts that relate to the time or a specific event, i.e. a book of matches from one of the Toledo clubs Tatum frequently played or a deck of cards, etc. This timeline would flow linearly towards a traditional cast bronze representation of Tatum playing at the keyboard. Where Tatum’s fingers are depicted racing up the keyboard, the composition would begin to oscillate and abstract as the instrument form extends outwardly, expressing a physical manifestation of the energy, prowess and power of Tatum’s virtuosic improvisations. The composition would consist of fluid forms echoing growth and generation throughout architectonic structural elements that continue the line of the wall. As the extending forms continue to rise and arc, they imply connection with a small covered multipurpose electrified performance space.

The wall is symbolic of several ideas including Tatum’s historical legacy and its diversity of influence as it dissipates into the myriad of fluid forms; the groove, the linear structure of music, it’s foundations and framework over which the push and pull of Tatum’s improvisations dance. It can also be viewed as a symbol of the racial division in Tatum’s time in which the free expression of jazz has been a force for dissolving.

The abstract evolving forms represent Tatum’s creative force ascending from, and along with, the framework and foundation of the jazz tradition. The shapes would be inspired by the fluidity of Tatum’s style and rhythmically symbolized by patterns and permutations replete within the makeup of the universe, syncopated waves of frequency like infinite ripples on the surface of the water.

Materials to be used would be a combination of carved granite, fabricated Cor-ten steel, stainless steel, sheet bronze, and cast bronze. Cast glass or UV stable acrylic elements may be woven throughout that could be fiber-optically illuminated in conjunction with the interactive elements described below.

Interactive Elements

As the instrument/music/wall expands, I envision the possibility to incorporate a water feature that is activated by a tactile interface. Made of cast or pressure formed stainless steel, the interface is an enlarged Braille transcription of one of Tatum’s solos or compositions, sweeping off of the instrument form into the fluidic abstractions. Utilizing capacitive touch sensing technology, similar to that of touch pads on laptop computers or the ipod, participants can “read” the music by running their fingers across the Braille. The tactile connection with each Braille note triggers a corresponding water stream pulse that emanates from an orchestrated layout of fountainheads that make up the far end of the wall. As the stream of water falls towards a reflecting pool it will first engage a sound-producing element, possibly a metal form such as a bell or pipe cut to length, which would tone in the proper frequency for the corresponding Braille note. Thus in effect the participant is able to “play “ excerpts of, or the entire transcription of Tatum’s music.

© 2009 Matthew Gray Palmer Fine Arts

Photo credit - Danielle Dean Palmer