Art Business News
Rock on: real-life music stars move from the stage to canvas

By Jessica Lyons
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Jimi Hendrix. John Lennon. Ronnie Wood. These visual artists rock--literally. They represent a few of the many professional musicians who paint, draw, sculpt and oftentimes pursued the visual arts before making a name for themselves as rock stars. Some of them studied art at prestigious institutes and academies, meeting future band mates among their classmates. Some of them have no formal training whatsoever--just a passion for the art form. But whether trained formally or not, rock star artists continue to attract collectors and can be cash cows for galleries that carry their work, even if they don't all garner critical acclaim.

"There are literally hundreds of musicians who are visual artists," said Dale Thompson, president of GRAMMY! Art of Music Gallery. His Las Vegas gallery shows the work of all the aforementioned rock stars, as well as Tony Bennett, David Bowie, Bono, Jewel, Paul McCartney, Jerry Garcia, John Entwistle and Grace Slick, among others. "They tend to be passionate," he added.

But neither passion nor classical training guarantee they will be taken seriously by the art world. Some musicians-as-artists say they have to work even harder than most to prove themselves.

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However, the influx of recent art shows by musicians, including "Backstage with Ron Wood" at POP International Gallery in New York, "Strange Messenger: The Work of Patti Smith" at The Andy Warhol Museum, "Yoko Ono" at the San Francisco MOMA, and Grace Slick's art show at Fingerhut Gallery in Carmel, Calif.--and the popularity and sales that come from these exhibitions--make the case that these rock stars' art must be taken seriously. And, like the songs that made them famous, fans can't get enough of rock `n' roll art. Like the music, the art's here to stay.

The crossover phenomenon is nothing new. After mastering one form of artistic expression, some celebrities want to conquer the next big thing--musicians who act, actors who sing, singers who write poetry. Perhaps rock stars who paint have an easier time at it. Whether creating music or creating visual art, rock musicians speak to the masses. They tell a story or shape a mood.

In the 1994 book Musicians As Artists, a collection of visual art by contemporary musicians, Jim McMulland and Dick Gautier argue that a strong link exists between music and the visual arts. The book features art by more than 50 musicians, as varied as Joan Baez, Miles Davis, Bennett, Bowie and Ringo Starr.

"Whereas actors are primarily delineators, interpreters of the incipient creation--the script--the musician, like the painter, begins with his or her own version of an empty canvas--the silent room,' the authors write in the preface. "Ultimately, whether these artists choose musical notes or paint to express themselves, they are channeling the same unique perceptions and experiences, and allowing the viewer--as well as the listener--to comprehend their world in a new way."

In the words of Jefferson Airplane's Marty Balin, "Some things come out as a painting, and other things I write into a song."

Artist in Wonderland

Balin's former bandmate agreed. While Grace Slick is still better known as the lead singer for Jefferson Airplane, she's made a name for herself over the past few years as a better-than-decent artist. Instead of singing, these days, she said she channels that creative energy into her art.

At a recent show at the Fingerhut Gallery in Carmel, Calif., Slicks art kept company with Picasso, Rembrandt and Chagall. She paints rock n' roll legends--Elvis, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison and Bob Dylan--as well as whimsical Alice in Wonderland scenes. Her style varies, "I do about 15 different styles," she told Art Business News, and she works in a variety of media, including acrylic and scratchboard.

"I would prefer to let the subject tell me what style it wants to be in," she said. "If you walk in and I'm having a gallery show, it looks like about 20 different people are having their gallery showing, and that's who I am."

"She's a communicator," said Area Art's Scott Hann, who is Slick's agent. "Whether it's singing, writing or painting."

Hann has also worked with the estates of Lennon and Garcia, representing the latemusicians' artwork, "but Grace is really the best," he said. "Because A, she's alive and B, she's not egoed out.

Slick said she has to create, "or else I get squirrelly," and it doesn't matter whether it's writing, drawing, making music or acting. "As long as my passion is focused."

She figures this explains the glut of rock-starsslash-artists. "Same part of the brain. It's not unusual to have artists who play guitar, guitar players who write songs. Actors who sing."

When it comes to explaining why so many musicians decide to try their hand with a paintbrush, however, critics fall into two camps: There are those who step in line with Slick and say visual arts are simply another way for talented, creative people to express themselves. Then there are those who say it's ego driven.

rock `N' Roll Hall of Fame chief curator Jim Henke said many rock musicians are simply returning to their roots. Wood and Lennon, among others, got their start in art school. Many met in school, long before they were rock stars.

"Particularly in England, a lot of people who ended up forming rock bands went to artThese musicians arschool," he said. "Visual art forms are another way to express themselves. Theremight be a little ego. Rock stars want to be actors; actors want to be rock stars. I'm not sure how much is pure ego. In a lot of cases, it's something they enjoy doing."

"For some of them, it's just an ego thing. Another feather in their cap," said Scott Hardy of Image Maker's Art. Hardy is the director of the World Celebrity Art Tour, a nationally star-studded cast itouring exhibition that bills itself as the largest collection of original artwork byfamous figures from music, cinema and television. It's rock ncludes Bennett, Bowie,

Tony Curtis, Mickey Dolenz, Bob Dylan, Entwistle and Garcia, among others. Hardy also directs the nationally touring "Jerry Garcia, a Visual Journey," featuring pen and inks, lithographs, etchings and silkscreens created by Garcia.

"I grew up painting and drawing, and to a high degree, I believe art is self indulgent" Hardy continued. "And it's also a creative outlet. These musicians are obviously talented and creative. Besides being ego, it's also a challenge to see if they can jump over to a different medium. It's not easy to be an accomplished artist"

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"I grew up painting and drawing, and to a high degree, I believe art is self indulgent" Hardy continued. "And it's also a creative outlet. These musicians are obviously talented and creative. Besides being ego, it's also a challenge to see if they can jump over to a different medium. It's not easy to be an accomplished artist"

Most musicians/artists aren't at the level of great masters of art, he admitted. But ultimately, art is subjective and even talent is in the eye of the beholder.

"[The auction houses] frown on celebrity artists," Hardy said. "They think it's a joke. But you know, that is the beauty of art. There are no rules; there are no guidelines. It comes down to an individual's opinion. An artist can take all the criticism from the critics, but in the end, it all comes down to the eye of the beholder. It's the irony of art. I love it."

A Few Good Artists

Admittedly, not all rock stars are good visual artists. "There are plenty of musicians we've just passed on because their art is truly horrible," Hardy admitted. "But guys like Tony Bennett, Jerry Garcia, Ronnie Wood and Paul McCartney are talented artists."

Many of those the talented artists did, in fact, receive formal training. Garcia studied at California School of Fine Arts, which later became the San Francisco Art Institute. On the other side of the Atlantic, before beginning his musical career, the Rolling Stone's Wood received formal training at Ealing College of Art in London. However, his career as a musician soon overtook earlier aspirations to become a professional painter.

"There was never really any money in art: That's why my music came first," said Wood in the book Every Picture Tells a Story: Wood on Canvas. "If I didn't have such a `good job' now, I'd be painting."

Over the past 10 years, however, he's held numerous one-man exhibitions in Europe, America and Japan. The Rock `N Roll Hall of Fame Museum in Cleveland recently featured an exhibit of Wood's artwork, including 25 prints and original paintings.

Cult of Celebrity

Formal schooling or not, the celebrity factor sells. "It's because it's by John [Entwistle] or Jerry [Garcia] or Grace [Slick]," said Laura Eveleigh, co-owner of Walnut Street Gallery in Fort Collins, Colo. "They would not walk in the front door if Grace Slick wasn't who she was. But once they come in, they fall in love with theart itself."

 
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