The Top 6 Musicians Who Became Artists
“Every artist has more than one medium inside of them. It’s the nature of creativity,” poet Nayyirah Waheed observed, perfectly articulating the fluidity of the aesthetic impulse. The nature of creation is has many roots, and though one may seek to perfect one form publicly, there are often other urges afoot.
Invariably we see this in Hollywood, where one is described as a “triple threat,” able to sing, dance, and act their way out of a paper bag. But in other arenas, people are less inclined to showboat, quietly pursing their private passion simply because they can’t not. In celebration, Crave spotlights six musicians turned artists who have found ways to express themselves in the realms of silence.
Bob Dylan, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature earlier this year, has long been a painter and published three books of work, which have a lovely Post Impressionist style. The first two, known as the Drawn Blank series published in 1990s, bring us inside Dylan’s world, giving us his perspective of life made while touring the world. From hotel interiors to cityscapes, sidewalk cafes to train tracks, Dylan’s images are paired with lyrics and poems that speak to life as he finds it.
The third book, The Brazil Series, was published in 2010, to coincide with an exhibition of 100 works at the National Gallery of Denmark. Here we see Dylan’s development as an artist, as he moves from watercolors and drawings to heavy acrylic paints, revealing motifs that speak to his life on the road, revealing another layer in from a life that has been equal parts enigmatic and privately held.
Kim Gordon is the face of alternative rock, having made a name for herself as bassist, guitarist, and vocalist for Sonic Youth. She went on to produce Hole’s debut album, Pretty on the Inside in 1991, and launched her own fashion line, X-Girl, two years later. It’s hard to imagine she is 64 years old, so profound the spirit of youth, rebellion, and rock & roll.
“When I came to New York, I’d go and see bands downtown playing no-wave music. It was expressionistic and it was also nihilistic,” Gordon told ELLE in 2013. “Punk rock was tongue-in-cheek, saying, ‘Yeah, we’re destroying rock.’ No-wave music is more like, ‘NO, we’re really destroying rock.’ It was very dissonant. I just felt like, Wow, this is really free. I could do that.”
Gordon brings that same spirit to the paintings and sculptures she has been making throughout her career, which were assembled in the book Noise Name Paintings and Sculptures of Rock Bands That Are Broken Up (Deste Foundation for Contemporary Art). It comes with limited edition that comes with a vinyl record of a performance of Gordon and Bill Nace as Body/Head, which took place on the rooftop of Benaki Museum, Athens, where an exhibition of the work was held. The book marks the first time Gordon has fused together these separate worlds, giving fans an opportunity to experience her work from an entirely fresh perspective.
Ronnie Wood, guitarist for the Birds, the Faces, and the Rolling Stones, is a noted painter who has been showing his work for decades. This month, Thames & Hudson releases Ronnie Wood: Artist, featuring more than 500 illustrations of his life and work. Wood’s talents on the page are simply undeniable. Whether working in paint, pencil, or charcoal, he constructs scenes inspired by the majesty of life, celebrating the glory of everyone from Billie Holiday and Miles Davis to Jimi Hendrix and Muhammad Ali, with a delightful smattering of nudes, views, portraits, animals, and ballet scenes to round it out.
“I’ve been painting and drawing for seven decades, which is longer than I’ve been playing music,” Wood reveals. “But when I was young, I never really thought about the art that I did…. As a guitarist, I’m known for playing the slide guitar and very much as a rock guitar player – a defined genre. My art allows me to explore more. I break the confines of a chord sequence with my art; I’m able to do whatever I want without having to think about bring part of a band, restricted by what the song needs…. Both art and music hold their position in my life. They bounce off one another and make me the person I am. I paint to music, and sometimes when I’m playing, in my head I’m doing it to a painting.”
Long before she became infamous for marrying well, Yoko Ono was a seminal figure in the avant garde art world, embracing the spirit of conceptual art, performance art, and Fluxus, that allowed artists to transform the medium of art itself. Liberated from the canvas, they took their work into life, creating happenings that challenged the accepted notions of fine art.
In 1964, Ono published Grapefruit in Tokyo in an edition of 500 copies. The book was conceptualized in five sections: MUSIC, PAINTING, EVENT, POETRY, OBJECT, providing a series of instructions that invited readers to participate. One piece, dated Autumn 1856, instructed readers to “Go to the middle of the Central Park Pond and drop all your jewelries.”
Grapefruit has recently been republished by the Museum of Modern Art, giving readers insight into her vision long before she married John Lennon.
In 1980, as the front man for the Talking Heads, David Byrne set the scene with “Once in a Lifetime,” opening with the verse: “And you may find yourself / Living in a shotgun shack / And you may find yourself / In another part of the world / And you may find yourself / Behind the wheel of a large automobile / And you may find yourself in a beautiful house / With a beautiful wife / And you may ask yourself, well / How did I get here?”
It was a potent question, one that underscored assumptions about the American Dream and prefigured the transformation into a neoliberal realm, where greed became modus operandi. But that was nearly forty years ago, and innocent in retrospect. Where we are is so much more insidious that Byrne took it a step further.
Byrne partnered with Mala Gaonkar to create Neuorosociety, an immersive exhibition presenting the work of fifteen cognitive neuroscience labs around the world, which was on view at Pace Gallery, Menlo Park, CA, earlier this year. Here, groups of ten visitors were guided through five spaces, where they were could participate in theatrical demonstrations and experiments designed to reveal how the brain creates a subjective interpretation of the world – and of the self.
You may ask yourself, “How did I get here?” when embodied inside a doll or seeing your hands grow to a vast size right before your very eyes. “And you may ask yourself / How do I work this?” when invited to predict election results of fictional politicians or discover just how fair and trusting you are of other people. It’s enough to make you pause, then press play, rethinking Byrne’s words, “And you may ask yourself / Am I right? Am I wrong? / And you may say yourself, ‘My God! What have I done?’”
David Bowie is as much a success in death as he was in life, which speaks to the power of his vision and the way in which it transcends his presence. The Brooklyn Museum has just announced that David Bowie Is…, a major exhibition, will open in March 2018.
The show, organized by the V&A, London, features 400 objects showing his creative process, revealing the ways in which Bowie naturally synthesized art, photography, video, costume, and design into his work, making his music as much a visual spectacle as they were a sonic experience. The exhibition also reveals the ways in which his explorations of gender and identity in the constant creation of character was a revolutionary move, very much prefiguring the times we inhabit now.
Miss Rosen is a journalist covering art, photography, culture, and books. Her byline has appeared in L’Uomo Vogue, Vogue Online, The Undefeated, Dazed Digital, Aperture Online, and Feature Shoot. Follow her on Twitter @Miss_Rosen.