Rod Stewart, caramel haired, perfectly tanned and trailed by towering blond. He is quickly followed by Tim Allen and someone who looks a lot like Jack Nicholson, but isn’t the party has finally begun. Now that the electric buzz of rock star charisma is coursing it’s way through the room, attention finally begins to settle on the large number of oils, lithographs and etchings that line the gallery walls.
Ronnie Wood is not your typical Sunday painter. He’s had formal training, working for a short time as a commercial artist in his 20s before the seduction of girls and guitars. His paintings show a solid technical ability and ease with the medium that comes from nearly 47 years (Wood has been painting proficiently since the age of 13) at the easel.
“I can paint, “ says Wood in a phone interview earlier in the afternoon, “so if they don’t like it, I can say, OK, you don’t like it’ and not feel too badly. But I don’t get much of that, fingers crossed.”
Wood’s work, most of which is simply and clearly expressed, is accessible and energetic and infused with the kind of sensibility that comes from creating art from easy pleasure rather than inner struggle. Wood, plainly put, just likes to paint.
“Unlike the music, it’s a solo effort, no one else to blame. But then again, no one else gets the satisfaction out of it,” says Wood of his work. “There’s no kind of therapy like what you get from starting and seeing a picture through. Over the years you’re never quite satisfied, and like the music you’re always learning and trying out new techniques. But that’s the beauty of art. It’s a lovely form of expression.”
Working primarily in portraiture, Wood obeys the age-old adage of “paint what you know” and most of his broad bright canvases are populated by famous friends and band-mates. Bob Dylan plays his guitar in a wash of vibrant strokes. The Who’s infamous drummer, Keith Moon, peers out impishly from a nicely composed sketch. There is Keith Richards rehearsing, Charlie Watts in the studio, Mick Jagger with lips pursed into his trademark pout.
The piece that seems to be getting the most attention on this night, however, is large oil of Muhammad Ali. The boxing great is rendered large and imposing, looming victorious over a fallen foe, who rests (save for a knee) just out of frame. It has been just announced that Ali himself will sign the painting. Wood’s paintings range from $25,000 to $200,000, while some limited edition prints can be had for $300.
The champagne is flowing. Rod Stewart strolls through the gallery, in yellow silk tie and pinstripe, playing the perfect British dandy. Alicia Silverstone stands in a corner looking hard at a triptych of Eric Clapton, Keith Richards and Jimi Hendrix. Allen chortles by the hors d’oeuvres. Just before 10 another blinding flash of bulbs announces, at long last the arrival of the man of the hour, who bounces into the room, tiny, midnight haired and brimming with uncontained excitement. The room erupts in wild applause. Ronnie Wood smiles happily.
“Thank you! Thank you so much everyone! He shouts. “Bugger Off!” comes a voice from the back. Heads turn. It’s Stewart, grinning madly, “They’re too damn expensive.”