Somerville Journal logo Ron Wood, painter
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By Ed Symkus

Before John Lennon was a Beatle, before Ray Davies was a Kink, before Pete Townshend was a Who or Brian Ferry sang in Roxy Music, all of these rock icons went to art school — the British equivalent of junior college, where they worked more with paint

than books. And after Ron Wood graduated from Ealing College of Art in London, he dreamed of becoming
Voodoo Mick Jagger by Ronnie Wood
a scenic design painter. When that didn’t pan out, he turned to music. That worked out pretty well. Wood and his Rolling Stones mates roll into Fenway Park for two long-sold-out, ridiculously overpriced shows next week.

But Wood has never stopped painting or drawing. And now a new show of Wood’s mostly rock music-related works — original oil paintings and mixed-media uniques, serigraphs, giclees and etchings — visits Boston as well, on display at Newbury Fine Arts in Boston through Aug. 29. The show, premiering in Boston, will travel to other galleries across the country.

“I was painting when I was 4,” says Wood, 58, who believes that the secret of capturing a subject is all in the eyes, insisting, “If you get the eyes, then you’ve got it.”

But there’s a lot more to Wood’s artwork than the eyes. Pieces in the new show range from the mid-1980s — in the serigraph titled “Pete Townshend and Keith Moon,” Townshend has his eyes closed — to 2005 — with a striking quartet series of solo portraits of the Stones that are mixed-media paintings on canvas. The work is infused with energy. Townshend is caught mid-jump, the sole of a shoe facing the viewer, his guitar strap snapping. Each Stone portrait shows its black and white subject hard at work playing music, surrounded by blue and gold splashes of paint that hint of Warholian motion.

“Some of this is partially printmaking, because he wants to get the sketchy, graphite kind of feeling,” says Newbury Fine Arts director Liz Novick, referring to the four-part series. “But it’s also been painted as a sort of pop icon kind of painting. I think Ronnie shows his reaction to American culture in his work. Even just looking at the art in terms of icons.”

Novick is quick to point out that this is not just a show of the Stones, or even of rock ’n’ roll. She gazes in awe at the large pastel-like giclee of a mischievously smiling Jack Nicholson, which she says came from an afternoon of sketching at Wood’s Malibu home. There’s also a giclee/screenprint based on the famous photo of Muhammad Ali standing victoriously over Sonny Liston. And Novick practically beams over a swirling giclee/screenprint of Bob Dylan, in which Dylan, behind his electric guitar, is actually smiling. Novick and her husband bought one of these Dylans, which are in a limited edition of 150.

Newbury Fine Arts, which regularly shows the work of well-known contemporary artists — “Our artists are living,” says Novick with a laugh — and has featured such names as Jim Buckels, Yingzhao Liu and Opie Otterstad, is not exactly known for having shows by celebrities. But this is the second time they’ve shown Wood’s work.

“We did a show for him about 15 years ago,” recalls Novick. “He had a very small body of work — a couple [of] etchings and a series called ‘The Decades,’ that was a very rough silkscreen process. They approached us and asked if we wanted to do an art show with him.”

Novick first asked to see a couple of samples, then quickly decided to do the show. Every piece sold, and in the ensuing years, she tried to get more pieces. Last year she got a call from the San Francisco-based Limelight Agency, which now represents Wood. They knew of the previous show and asked if she’d like to see some new samples. She did. And she sold them. When it was announced that the Stones would start their 2005 tour in Boston, negotiations began for doing a new show of his art.

“We’re getting an interesting clientele for his work,” says Novick. “I sent a letter out to some of our clients, who are some of the most conservative art buyers around. But you’d be shocked. Some of them have been calling up and saying they’re the biggest Stones fan. And a lot of them knew Ronnie’s work.

“So you have a person who’s extremely talented, but you also have a person who’s a celebrity,” she adds. “And I think that’s an unbelievably winning combination.”

Among the strongest pieces in the show are the vibrant, energetic pair of serigraphs, “Voodoo Mick” and the self- portrait “Voodoo Ronnie,” the deeply introspective serigraph, “Keith III” — a beautiful silk screening in which you can see the gradations of the colors — and two superb, character-catching portraits of Stones drummer Charlie Watts — the alternately thoughtful and action-packed giclee “Blue Charlie” and the truly majestic oil painting, “Red Charlie.”

There’s plenty more — about 40 pieces, with almost every subject treated in a different way. Most of the pieces fall in the $1,250 to $5,000 range.

“This is a glimpse into an inside world,” says Novick. “They’re part of his world, these are people he hangs out with, people he laughs and cries with. So we’re connecting intimately to a world we normally would not connect with, and he’s doing it in an incredible, fine art way.”

As an afterthought she adds, “I heard that he also works in bronze, so far only for his own enjoyment.” But she can’t let it go at that. She also says, “And he’s one of the greatest slide guitarists in the world.”

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