Pen-and-ink blues portraits the icing on the cake at Mr. B's birthday concert
This year Mr. B—Ann Arbor keyboard dynamo Mark Braun—and Chelsea-based visual artist John Pappas have collaborated to provide an evening of boogie-woogie and blues piano combined with detailed pen-and-ink portraits depicting some of the blues greats whose music is being performed.
The portraits were drawn by Pappas on folding basswood panels. Sixteen portraits have been created for the performances, and each illustration is flanked with quotes from, and remarks about, the performers.
When open, the panels are roughly 24 inches wide and 21 inches tall. Braun, who is also an accomplished woodworker, made the panels, cutting them in the shape of church windows, and provided Pappas with a list of 25 influential blues and jazz pianists. Then, drawing on his own research, Pappas came up with the triptychs honoring musicians such as Jimmy Yancy, Little Brother Montgomery, Blind John Davis, Earl “Fatha” Hines, Otis Spann, Boogie Woogie Red and others.“I don’t know if I can hold up my (musical) end of the deal,” Braun, who is turning 55, said. “John’s stuff is just staggering in my view. I am totally enamored with what he’s done. It’s really an opportunity for me to share my passion and to celebrate the lives of these guys who are mostly forgotten musicians. It’s a tip of the hat to those who inspired me.”
The two met when Pappas came to a fundraising concert for Braun’s Joybox Express piano-bike project in 2010. The two—both music lovers—cemented their friendship during a winter camping trip to the Porcupine Mountains.
“We started talking about a way we might work together on some kind of a collaboration that would have meaning for both of us,” Braun recalled. “Eventually this is what we settled on. I have a lot of friends that are artists—they are a pretty tough crowd, very hard to impress. When I have shown them this stuff, they just gasp.”
Pappas has a degree in studio art and graphic design from Michigan State, and is a graphic designer and art director for Ann Arbor’s Perich Advertising + Design firm. After Braun sent along the list of musician’s names, Pappas looked them up on Google, finding pictures and other information—including some of the quotes used in the drawings.
It took about 20 hours to complete each panel, Pappas said, using a Tombow Zoom pen and black ink.
All the remarks and quotes that surround the portraits are negative space—Pappas filled black in around the letters, leaving them the natural color of the wood so that the letters appear. From a bit of a distance away, the effect is that of an old-style black and white photograph.
A reception for Pappas will follow after the concert, and his portraits will be on display through February at the Kerrytown Concert House. The show is also going in the road, with an additional performance and showing scheduled at the Antieau Gallery in New Orleans March 17.
Ann Arbor News file photo
Braun is clearly thrilled the way the panels turned out.
“I think they are magnificent. I am totally enamored with John’s abilities. (his work) is very, very cool—there’s a lot more to it than meets the eye. The perspective, the soulful feeling that is expressed through some of the writings that surround the portraits is super powerful,” Braun said.