Sketches bring life to fantasy

Local artist M.P. Tully captures the atmosphere of live music with pencil and watercolours

M.P. Tully started drawing sketches of musicians to keep from feeling restless at concerts.
M.P. Tully started drawing sketches of musicians to keep from feeling restless at concerts.
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Over the years a music lover and fervent concert-goer will attend too many shows to count, watch friends’ bands grow up and fizzle out, and witness the evolution, demise and reinvention of icons.

Usually we look back at ticket stubs, photos and anecdotes from those nights to remember when our favourite musicians came to town or when we ventured to the next city over to catch them live. A concert’s atmosphere is volatile; good or bad, it’s dependent on a cross-section of many factors. Band, venue, audience and, hell, even the weather help create a mood.

Artist and musician M.P. Tully, who plays with his wife in their band Kyra and Tully, commemorates live shows in his own way. Since the mid ’90s, Tully has been bringing a sketchpad to concerts in order to capture bands and artists on stage. He draws while the musicians play, creating sketches of artists in mid-performance.

Pulling from his extensive collection of concert drawings, Tully assembled the exhibit Vinyl Fantasy, which features his sketches of an eclectic array of artists and musicians, mostly of the rock variety but with a few jazz and classical artists to boot.

The project is fun, in typical rock ’n’ roll fashion. Each sketch is attached with duct tape to a vinyl sleeve, all hanging in rows from rope. None of the vinyl sleeves match up in terms of artists, let alone genres. The actual vinyl records are collected in crates and available for the public to browse through and play with an available record player. “I thought it wouldn’t really work to have things match up. It’s more about the randomness,” Tully said. “Same with the records. You have to search through the records and look at them [to know what they are]. It’s a bit of a mixed bag.”

Tully’s penchant for drawing musicians began when he was in art school and got bored with the typical art school exercises. He traded in the assigned subject matter of an art project for a painting of his friend’s band.

“The class was supposed to do this painting of this male model in the nude and I sort of rebelled and painted this blue motley acrylic painting—they gave me a D for the project,” Tully said.

Right now Tully’s drawings of bands—including his friends’ bands—are hanging in The Artel’s gallery. Tully revisited some of the sketches before the show, laser printing them and sometimes adding watercolours to bring a vibrancy to the black and white drawings. The added colours may not match the actual tones of the night of the performance, but they lighten and liven up the sketches, as well as recall how memory can alter details over time. Some of the sketches, though, are direct pages from his sketchbook, unaltered and of-the-moment.

The artists range from huge to local. Many CanRock fans will feel at home browsing Tully’s sketches of The Rheostatics, The Bicycles, Hayden, Sarah Slean, The Golden Dogs, Metric and others playing venues Kingstonians frequent and walk by every day like The Grad Club, Elixir, The Grand Theatre and the now-closed Cocamo.

Sketches of legendary acts like Bob Dylan and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young are also present but the sketches of acts playing Kingston’s intimate venues really draw the local music fan in as Tully draws on the familiar but produces it through his own artistic vision.

“I never felt quite comfortable watching a show, I always felt restless. … It makes sense to capture, document for myself, partly,” Tully said. “I was doing a bit of a performance by sketching it; people were coming up and checking out what I was doing.”

The sketches range from lush flourishes to stark lines depending on the year of the work and the band. Their fluidity is much like the nature of live performance itself.

A particularly apt depiction of Ohbijou, from their performance at The Artel last year, is part of the collection. The band members connect and weave into and out of each other through curly and well-defined lines, which capture the band’s large, collective essence on stage.

A total of 150 drawings make up Tully’s concert repertoire. His unique concert activity has produced many glimpses into the world of live music, set in venues from Toronto to Montreal. The show is not so much a fantasy as an ever-growing memory and testament to the love of live music.

“In a crowd of 2,000 people,” he said, “I wonder if there’s another person out there doing the same thing as I am.”

M.P Tully’s exhibit, Vinyl Fantasies, will be on display at the Artel until Nov. 11. The Artel is located at 224 Sydenham St. and is open from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Thursdays and Fridays, and Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

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