Musician-painters "rock" art world: icons provide "sweet music" for collectors and galleries
Art Business News, Dec, 2004 by Bill Beggs, Jr.
When it comes to the word "artist," chances are your first thoughts are of painters and sculptors. But what about actors, comedians and musicians? Especially the ones who paint?
The late, great Anthony Quinn, an Academy Award-winning actor, was an accomplished painter and sculptor. Actress Jane Seymour paints as well. On the comedy front, the ever-manic Jonathan Winters paints, as does Rosie O'Donnell. And former Playboy model Victoria Fuller has put a Pop-Art spin on the venerable bunny icon that represents Hugh Hefner's erotic empire.
But when it comes to painting as a sideline--a part-time job, if you will--it appears to be the domain of musicians, with collectors seeking the works of a select few, including Ron Wood, Grace Slick and Anthony Benedetto.
Wood and Slick are rock 'n' roll icons. Wood, who played bass guitar for the Jeff Beck Group and was later a founding member of the Faces with Rod Stewart, has been with the Rolling Stones for nearly 30 years. Slick was the colorful, outspoken lead singer for Jefferson Airplane, which took flight at the height of the psychedelic era in the 1960s during the Vietnam War. Slick remained with the group on and off during its incarnations as Jefferson Starship--then, in the 1980s, when it was known as simply Starship.
And this Benedetto fellow? Why, he's none other than Tony Bennett. Bennett the performer, the crooner, has been without equal for five decades. Though there is a Sinatra "camp," such comparisons are no fairer than putting Monet up to Renoir: same medium, different style.
Each of these three has the chops, either vocally or with an electrified string instrument. But what about when it comes to the palette?. That all depends on the palate. Since their raison d'etre is to criticize, critics of course don't agree. Nonetheless, works by Benedetto, Slick and Wood sell--quite frequently on the merits of their visual appeal alone.
Michele Rosen knows how well works sell by Slick and Wood. A 20-year veteran of the gallery business, Rosen now owns Gallery 319 in Malibu, CA, which as of September had handled Wood's art for eight months and Stick's for four. Rosen's clients and passersby are well heeled--albeit often in sandals--as the beach is just blocks away. Gallery 319 had a show of Wood's newest works Aug. 28, but his technique--vibrant and eye-catching in its own right--sells itself.
"People have bought his art because they like it, not because he's Ronnie Wood of the Rolling Stones" says Rosen. Before embarking on his career as a musician, Wood studied at the prestigious Ealing College of Art in London.
An artist his entire life, Tony Bennett may have picked up chalk before a microphone. At age 5, Anthony Dominick Benedetto started to draw on the sidewalks of his Astoria, Queens, neighborhood of New York. It would be decades until he left his "... Heart in San Francisco;" his signature song that didn't hit the Billboard pop chart until 1962.
Grace Slick managed to pull off the Sixties phrase, "Tune in, turn on, drop out," although it took her a few decades to do all three. Slick has managed to live relatively quietly since Starship disbanded in 1990.
Slick prefers the paintbrush to the microphone today, according to her bio at www.gallery-319.com. There she also appears to address the question "why" as if anyone would have the audacity to ask that question of an artist.
Slick writes, "As far as I can determine at this point, creation is constantly taking place and my life is a result of in pursuit of that process." She continues, "Sometimes the form is music; sometimes it is giving birth, or maybe just sitting and appreciating sunset. Simply watching beauty helps it 'exist.'
"When I am in the process of painting, I am gone to a place that relieves me of trivia and encourages the expression of a more vibrant existence. Painting is a still form. Unlike film, the movement has to be implied on canvas and translated to you by way of a mutual and basic recognition."
Wood is a bit more matter of fact: "Painting is a good outlet for me. With a band I'm part of a unit, whereas with my art, I control the whole thing," he says at www.ronniewood.com.
Wood sketches or paints whenever he can, his subjects often are his bandmates: singer Mick Jagger, guitarist Keith Richards and drummer Charlie Watts. His output includes portraits of notables such as jazz vocalist Billie Holiday and the Doors' Jim Morrison. He also portrays animal species whose survival is not guaranteed. Among his cityscapes is a dark, gothic rendering of Prague, Czech Republic.
Slick is also an accomplished portrait artist, having done several of her friend Jerry Garcia (Grateful Dead). A favorite among collectors is Slick's portrayal of Janis Joplin ... as a wood nymph.
Bennett makes time to paint everyday, in his "down time" at the hotel or while out and about when on tour or traveling for pleasure. Watercolor is his preferred medium, Bennett has done several studies of San Francisco, as well as numerous landscapes and still lifes. The United Nations commissioned his artwork on two occasions, including the U.N.'s 50th Anniversary, after which Oprah Winfrey acquired "Peace" and "Brotherhood" for her personal collection. Stars from Cary Grant to Carol Burnett to "The Chairman of the Board" himself, Frank Sinatra, have also purchased Benedettos.
But who's going to buy a Cartellone just because it's a still life of the monotony of touring by Michael Cartellone, a drummer who used to play for the long-forgotten 1980s power-pop group Damn Yankees, and now tours with what remains of Lynyrd Skynyrd?
Art for Art's Sake
Herein is an essential question for collectors or galleries to consider: Is this art for art's sake? That is, is it indeed worthy of display, or is the piece simply a collectible, a curiosity that may increase in value as would a pair of Grace Slicks sandals, one of Wood's "axes" or a handwritten set list from Bennett?
Dick Kleinman, who owns Dick Kleinman Fine Art Gallery in the Little Italy section of Cleveland, has never had a celebrity exhibit in the gallery. He does, however, truly admire the artwork of Wood and Slick, both of whom he characterizes as "really good artists." But Kleinman reserves the most praise for Bennett, whom he met personally several years back at an event on Cape Cod. The paintings were top-notch, which reflects the artist himself: "A first-class individual. He is truly distinguished, a wonderful human being," says Kleinman.
Unfortunately, Kleinman emphasizes, such terms may not apply to some promoters of musicians and their art.
"Everyone throws this word 'legend' around," he notes, adding that artist reps may provide precious little advance notice, which is frustrating for a gallery whose calendar is already set. Then what? The "happening" may not happen at all.
"The managers want too much money, and there are no guarantees," Kleinman says, adding flatly: "Rock stars aren't reliable." If the star doesn't make it, Kleinman says he might be told that "his wife might." Plus, there may be no originals; the star might have given them to friends. Kleinman did consider a rocker's art show.
After all, Cleveland is home of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. But the challenges he's pointed out led to his deciding against it.
On the "Left Coast" at Gallery 319, Michele Rosen has a different perspective. Although staging the Ron Wood show was a lot of work for her and her gallery director, Melissa Menard, it was well worth it.
"The actual show took three weeks to put together; many late hours preparing everything--not to mention many bottles of wine" Rosen exclaims.
On exhibit were 72 pieces--originals, monoprints and silkprints--many unveiled for the first time. Hosting a celebrity of Wood's profile included steps not necessary for other artist appearances--ultra-realist wine painter and aficionado Thomas Arvid, for one. The run-up to any artist event at Gallery 319 includes advertising, invitations by mail and e-mail follow-ups, but Wood necessitated security and a PR agency to manage media relations.
Rosen weighed the benefits vis-a-vis the hassle.
"We've been able to tap into the rock 'n' roll crowd, converting people who wouldn't ordinarily walk into a gallery. Intrigued by the Rolling Stones artwork in the window, they end up visiting us, walk away with art and become one of our fine art collectors," she says. Wood's personal appearance has boosted sales of his work. Slick's work didn't suffer--she was at the party, too.