Muso Life: Camerata Making Waves

Posted on June 9, 2009


Sophie Backhouse, a young artist working with creative consultancy agency NonConform, has created a number of designs for the Camerata’s new programme. Taking the chamber orchestra’s name for its new season – ‘Exchanges’ – and associated words like ‘Atmosphere’, ‘Provoke’ and ‘Transform’ as her inspiration, she has produced a selection of striking images. The designs, being rather different from the more typical style of brash, angular graffiti, challenge the negative prejudices surrounding street art and fill the orchestra’s brochure with vivid colours and sumptuous shapes.

Sophie’s style is heavily influenced by Art Nouveau, and her expressive, swirly designs – which she first perfects in pen and ink before transferring them, large-scale, to spraypaint and brick – lend themselves to the themes of cross-cultural exploration behind the season’s aesthetic.

While working on the designs, Sophie engaged with many of the pieces that appearing in the Camerata’s 2009-10 season, including Beethoven’s Sixth and Eighth symphonies, Mendelssohn’s Symphony No 4 and Brahms’ Piano Concerto No 1.

‘It’s been a totally different experience for me because I’m not normally involved with classical music,’ comments Sophie, who goes by the name of ‘Luna’ in graffiti communities, ‘but I really enjoyed doing it – it pushed me further.’

There’s one piece in particular behind this project; Handel’s Belshazzar. One of the central works in the orchestra’s upcoming season, the oratorio contains a section referred to as ‘the Writing on the Wall’. The wall, as the Camerata’s head of artistic planning, Manus Carey, explains, has become a potent symbol for this project: ‘It’s about the connections between graffiti and so-called “high” art, and the whole idea of a wall as a divider – and breaking down those boundaries.’

‘We also see that as what we’re trying to do more generally,’ he continues, ‘in terms of the way we programme – we are trying to break out of any boundaries and say that, you know, even though a lot of the music we perform was written 100 or 200 years ago, there are a lot of elements in it that are very relevant today.’ Sophie’s designs will highlight this, and help ‘capture people’s attention’.

Despite its recent mainstream popularisation via artists such as Banksy – whose works sell for hundreds of thousands – graffiti is still majorly seen not as art at all, but as vandalism. While a handful of artists, such as the aforementioned, elusive Banksy, have been acknowledged and even canonised by the establishment, the prevailing attitude toward so-called ‘urban’ art remains hostile. It is refreshing, then, to witness such an open-minded partnership between two very different organisations.

‘You still hear about court cases going on all the time,’ comments Sophie, who began experimenting with graffiti when she was 18, ‘but I think it’s more accepted now. We’re trying to get it involved in more projects, because it can be done positively.’

‘We need people to learn about it and have more spaces to do it in. In Brighton, they commission artists to paint full buildings. Some people just associate it with negative things – but something like what we’ve just done with the Camerata proves that it can be pushed in a good direction.’

To read this article on the Muso website, click here.