Interview \\ Artist Dora Lam who paints your favourite artists live

Whilst our eyes and ears are being treated to a thriving live scene in London, there is someone cropping up in the city’s shows who is drawing our attention; meet live painter Dora Lam.

You might have seen her live paintings cropping up on the Instagram feeds of Total Refreshment Centre and Sons of Kemet members. Her quick turnaround artwork has archived unforgettable shows by The Cookers (Church of Sound) and various artists at Brownswood’s We Out Here shows.

With her taste as dependable as her art skills, following Dora’s adventures has become a creative way to discover London’s Jazz scene. We took some time to check out how Dora’s brush strokes creatively document a movement in music.

\\ Give us a bit of background on you and what you do? 

I go to gigs and capture them live in paint on a canvas! Like what a photographer does except at the end of the gig there is a painting which can’t be duplicated.

\\ How did you get involved in painting artists on the London jazz scene?

Jazz in all forms has been a long time love of my life so I’ve been kicking around at gigs for a long time! At the beginning I was asked by a friend to make some drawings for charity so I did a sketch at the Jazz Café. From there I started doing more at the many jazz spots I go to regularly, places like Kansas Smitty’s (my local), the 606… the art gradually got more and more attention from the audience and musicians so I started doing it on a bigger scale and now I find myself setting up easels at venues and events all over the place.

I think the jazz scene in particular lends itself to a certain type of open mind; everyone I’ve come across so far has been highly encouraging and receptive to the work.

\\ Who are your favourite artists to draw? 

I wouldn’t be able to say! But recent gig highlights have been Nubya Garcia, Theon Cross, Shabaka Hutchings, Ezra Collective, Joe Armon Jones, Kokoroko, Kansas Smitty’s, Tank and the Bangas, Hypnotic Brass, James Taylor… sorry that’s too many isn’t it. 

\\ What is it about a live performance that informs how you will paint? Do certain colours come to you via the music? 

Every facet of a performance affects the painting in some way. A rootsy sound might inspire more primal bright colours while angular playing and dissonant notes will probably affect the brushstrokes and the rhythm of it all. The spirituality of a performance might elongate the figures – the list goes on. Solos and improvisation are influential to how I paint as it moves me to shift focus to the soloist. The physical movement of the musicians and how frenetic or serene they’re playing has a big effect.

Sometimes even the audience can have an effect; at a gig I was painting for Mardi Gras at Pop Brixton the jumping crowd made the floor very unsteady and the ink splatters on the painting convey that! Whilst at a Clark Tracey performance for the Jazz Archives recently the mood and the beauty of the compositions created a bluer, more renaissance like effect.

The aim is never to have a premeditated idea of how it will look but to let the painting evolve as the performance goes on its journey. There’s a weird balance to strike between letting things ebb and flow whilst retaining just enough control for timing and thoughtful composition.

\\ What’s been your favourite reaction to one of your paintings? 

“Oh his ankle’s dislocated“ – so not everyone has an appreciation of the looseness, but this person ended up buying the painting! My other favourite reaction is when an audience member says it captured the gig perfectly – mission complete.

\\ Do you have a favourite piece of your own? 

I couldn’t say. I find I like very specific aspects of the artworks but I’m highly critical of my output and constantly in throes of working out whether that is a good or a bad thing.

\\ Who are the live painting artists that inspire your work? 

There are not many people on the scene doing this but Gina Southgate who has been on the improvisation circuit for many years was a mentor to me for a month when I first started – her work is vivid, developed, and has a beautiful sense of conviction to it. I also love Jenny Soep’s work.

Follow Dora Lam on Instagram at @dorathedrawer and purchase her artwork here. Although be swift… her artwork is often snapped up on the night of a show. 

EZH | Tina Edwards