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Seeing sounds, hearing art
Bringing visuals to the Savannah Music Festival

Notations artist reception

When: 5:30-7:30 p.m.,Thursday, March 21

Where: Lulu's Chocolate Bar, 42 MLK Blvd.


For Carmela Aliffi, music is an integral part of her artistic process.

"I always have music on when I work. I can put on Motown and just be really happy. Sometimes it's a movie soundtrack," says the painter and art teacher, who is showing new work at Lulu's Chocolate Bar March 21-April 16.

Even when she's not in her studio, Aliffi holds music near and dear, and she's a fan of just about every genre under the sun.

"Latin jazz and I'm on the floor. Country rock, I can go there, too. I have tickets for Daniel Hope this week. My tastes are pretty broad," she grins.

It makes a whole lot of sense that her favorite tunes find their way into her art, and her new show is called "Notations" for a reason. Aliffi's encaustic "compositions" involve vintage sheet music, scores from Italian instrumentals and other symphonic elements layered with beeswax and tree resin, offering a visual representation of the sounds that inspire her.

"There is such an important relationship between art and music," muses the native Savannahnian, who has spent time as an artist-in-residence in Italy, Argentina and on Ossabaw Island. "Each is striving for rhythm, balance, harmony."

That she has orchestrated "Notations" in conjunction with the Savannah Music Festival is no accident either. She chose Lulu's for its proximity to the Ships of the Sea Museum's North Garden, a premiere festival venue.

"It had to be close to the music," she nods. "And I think these pieces look great on those red brick walls."

While this is the first time the 2009 Fulbright-Hayes scholar has shown solo during the two-and-a-half-week festival, Aliffi has sought to connect art with the event several times in the past, starting as far back as when it was known as "Savannah OnStage."

That first event took place in a tangled garden on Boundary Street, where Aliffi and writer/green thumb Jane Fishman plotted a sculpture competition as a way to bring a visual element to what was then the city's nascent music festival.

"We totally made this thing up! We sent out all these official letters to all the area high schools and colleges telling them they could participate, and we told everyone we were going to have an opening with live music and all that," remembers Allifi. "Hundreds of people came! It was fantastic!"

More parallel "off stage" events followed. In 2009, Aliffi and her cohorts in the Creative Force Artist Collective — including community icons Jerome Meadows, Betsy Cain, Matt Toole, Judy Mooney and Imke Lass — collaborated with jazz man Jody Espina on "Seeing Sounds," a live painting and sculpting performance set to music.

At first, Espina tried to introduce the collective to "soundpainting," in which a composer uses hand signals to elucidate movements on canvas by a group of artists.

"As you can imagine, it was like herding cats," Aliffi deadpans.

Nevertheless, the creatives joined the forces of art and music for a one-night event at the Black Box Theater. Centered around a 28-foot long music-themed sculpture that snaked through the space, "Seeing Sounds" was such a huge hit that the organizers of the Savannah Music Festival requested another performance at the Jepson two weeks later. Though that too was another great success, no plans were made for a visual art event the following year's festival.

Aliffi went on to curate her own music-inspired show in 2011 after Creative Force had entered a dormant phase. ("I wouldn't say it's dead, it's sleeping," considers Allifi. "At any moment, that group could awaken at any moment with an amazing project.")

"ArtSounds" again took place during the Savannah Music Festival at Meadow's Indigo Sky Community Gallery; again, live music was part of the total effect.

While this year's "Notations" may not have audible musical accompaniment, the correlation is right there in the work.

"In this show, I want to bring awareness to all the possibilities," says Aliffi, who has been teaching art at St. Vincent's Academy since 1990 and chairs the art department.

"My next task is to get things going for next year's festival. I would really like to get the larger community interested."

Aliffi would like to see visual art become a permanent part of the SMF, perhaps taking a cue from Charleston's Spoleto Festival, which incorporates art, music, dance and other fine art performances. She says all it would take is an official nod from festival organizers, a promise from the Jepson and an invitation to local galleries to show music-themed work.

"It would not take as much as it sounds like to have this all happen," she says. "It could be an explosion.

"I think that the whole town could be singing art."