Larry Saxton - Sitting Comfortably at the Nexus of Art and Music

Barrington M. Salmon | 1/25/2012, 12:13 p.m.

In October 2010, Larry Saxton sat rapt, entranced by a performance presented by Cirque du Soleil called "OVO."

He was so deeply affected by the artistry, the riot of color and the overall visual richness, he felt compelled to try to transfer the ephemeral feelings coursing through him onto canvas.

The experience - at the National Harbor in Oxon Hill - energized Saxton and caused a spurt of creativity. By that Christmas, he had finished 15 paintings - acrylic and tissue paper - in a series commemorating different elements of what he had seen.

"The colors, the music, the environment: It blew me away, man, it blew me away," he recalled during a recent interview. "The colors killed me. I couldn't sleep. I was awakened at night; I couldn't get it out of my head, so I worked it out on canvas. That's how I'll go through a series. Sometimes it will hit me and I'll work it until I'm exhausted. Sometimes it may be 15-20 pieces or three or four."

Saxton, 61, has been painting most of his life. Art is an integral part of his existence, and he always knew he wanted to be involved in the medium, he said.

On the walls of his well-appointed District home hang paintings Saxton had created as well as an African mask and an intricately carved antelope head with long curved horns, paintings by some of his favorite artists, Sam Gilliam and the late Charles Sebree, Charles White and Aveille Jacobs, and artwork by Rothko and Kandinsky. Saxton's representational abstract of the Buffalo Soldiers sits above his fireplace and a slightly grizzled self-portrait greets guests in the dining room. Saxton's studio is comfortable, filled with finished pieces, others in various states of completion and all the accoutrements of his craft - including a large easel, paint brushes, pens, pencils, crayons, and paint of all hues. One thing Saxton can't do without is his music. His sound system offers a soothing aural accompaniment to his musings or a pleasing backdrop as he brings a canvas to life.

What wafts through the speakers could be anything from Duke Ellington to Michael Jackson's Thriller. As long as Saxton has his art, music, especially jazz, golf and his family, he's a happy man.

Every room in the house holds Saxton's personal artwork, including oil paintings, pen and pencil drawings, his wood and stone sculptures, as well as other artworks he's amassed over the years.

"I collect mainly African American art so I can pass it on to my kids but I wish I could afford Rothko and Kandinsky," he said. "If I saw something I liked, though, I wouldn't not buy it because it was done by someone who wasn't African American. Kandinsky and Rothko were artists who deal with a lot of emotions in their work. Their work centers on colors, feelings."

Saxton is compact, his gestures smooth, spare, measured. But his facial expressions and mannerisms make a noticeable shift whenever he ruminates about art and music. Saxton's eyes light up, he becomes animated and his body seems charged with a passion and energy that illustrates his deep and abiding passion for his craft and vocation.