Is it in their DNA? Possibly a “creative genius” gene that science has yet to discover? Or is it an otherwordly gift – one that is physically untraceable? Perhaps it’s just an excellent work ethic.How best do we explain these iconic songwriter/musicians who seem to have enough talent left over to create masterful work in an entirely different medium? Apparently there is something tying the audio and visual arts together – a place in the universe where sight and sound inspirations collide.
In celebration of this mystery, Rock Cellar Magazine presents a photo essay celebrating 9 revered musicians who also happen to be darn good visual artists. (Part One)
Genghis by Ronnie Wood
Whats My Name by Ronnie Wood
Slash by Ronnie Wood
Since 1964, Ronnie Wood has had quite the successful career as a musician in several super-groups including Faces, The Rolling Stones and The Jeff Beck Group. But as a child, Wood had plans to become a renowned visual artist, as both his brothers had. He trained at the Ealing Art College in London, where Freddie Mercury and Pete Townshend also attended in the 1960s.
Though his path in life changed, Wood has never ceased to practice his skill – frequently painting, and drawing icons of popular culture including his band mates. His art has been exhibited all over the world, and Wood is the co-owner of a London art gallery called Scream.
Flowers in a Vase Tony Bennet
House of Poets Tony Bennett
L’emitage by Tony Bennett
Painting under his family name of Anthony Benedetto, the silver-haired crooner Tony Bennett is also a serious and accomplished painter. Tony Bennett began formal training as an art student at the School of Industrial Arts in Manhattan.
In his 20s, Bennett went on to become one of the greatest singers of his day. He continued to paint occasionally on the side, but it wasn’t until he was in his 30s that a friend encouraged him to pursue art on a more serious level. Since then, he’s been drawing or painting every day and continues to study at the Art Students League of New York and with private instructors.
Dee Dee Ramone
Goop by Dee Dee Ramone, 2001
Dee Dee Ramone will forever be an enigmatic punk rock icon. While most are familiar with his musical legacy as a founding member and songwriter in the Ramones, many are less aware of his talent for art and painting. Like Dee Dee, his work is rebellious, dynamic, eccentric and comedic.
Don Van Vliet (Captain Beefheart)
Ibex by Don Van Vliet, 1986
Last Of A Dying Breed by Don Van Vliet
Ghost Red Wire by Don Van Vliet, 1967
In the words of Robert Williams, former Magic Band drummer: “Don’s art is spectacular. It reminds me of a drunk on a high wire who miraculously makes it to the other side each time, but not without the tension.”
Before his successful musical career as Captain Beefheart, Don Van Vliet was a self-taught sculptor and painter. He retired from his music career in the early 80s to pursue a career in art. This venture proved to be his most financially secure one: his expressionist paintings and drawings command high prices, and have been exhibited in art galleries and museums across the world.
A Lot Like Me by Janis Joplin, 1965
In The Union by Janis Joplin, 1965
Girl With Long Hair by Janis Joplin
“Painting is kind of a hold in and be quiet kind of thing and singing is a more free, flow out kind of thing. Your whole lifestyle just becomes more… flow out.” — Janis Joplin
Although known for her unique voice and flower-child personality, Janis Joplin briefly dabbled in the art world before moving out to California. Most of Joplin’s pieces were created between the ages of 12 and 20 – painting all through high school, and creating sketches of her friends in college. She only started singing after she graduated, and said it changed her life.
Alice and White Rabbit by Grace Slick
Trust by Grace Slick
Not So White Rabbit by Grace Slick
After retiring from her music career for good in 1989, the lead singer of Jefferson Airplane and Jefferson Starship developed a new talent and passion for the visual arts. Since 2000, Slick has had her art displayed in over thirty exhibits and is represented by several galleries in the U.S.
Grace Slick’s obsession with Alice in Wonderland and the White Rabbit continues: she has said that Alice is a metaphor for her own life.
9 Portraits by John Lennon
Land of Milk and Honey by John Lennon
Come Together by John Lennon
John Lennon began drawing long before he had a guitar; art was in fact his first love. During the years 1957-60 he attended the prestigious Liverpool Art Institute, before being thrown out for bad behavior. Luckily, his bar band The Beatles became a full-time occupation.
Lennon continued to draw and paint throughout his life, gaining the respect as a visual artist in his lifetime. Similar to artists in the Orient who sign their works with a patented stamp known as a “chop,” John Lennon’s hand stamped signature was designed to read “Like a Cloud, Beautiful Sound.”
Big Mountain Face by Paul McCartney
Linda with Piano by Paul McCartney, 1988
Ancient Connections by Paul McCartney
“I felt that only people who’d gone to Art College were allowed to paint.” — Paul McCartney
Always interested in the visual arts, McCartney shied away from the format until 1983 when he took up painting after watching Willem de Kooning work in his Long Island Studio. In 1999 he exhibited his first paintings featuring portraits of John Lennon, Andy Warhol, and David Bowie.
After an art show in 2000 with Yoko Ono, he confessed to the press, “I didn’t tell anybody I painted for 15 years, but now I’m out of the closet.” In 2002, McCartney designed a series of six postage stamps issued by the Isle of Man Post, and was the first major rock star who became a stamp designer.
Wetlands by Jerry Garcia
Birdland by Jerry Garcia, 1965
Sea Anemone by Jerry Garcia
Early in his life, Jerry Garcia was greatly encouraged in his artistic abilities by his third grade teacher, and discovered that being a creative person was a viable possibility in life.
Going on to study at the Art Institute of San Francisco as a teenager, his career path diverged in 1965 with the formation of the Grateful Dead. Although it was his musical passion that ultimately earned him fame, throughout the band’s success Garcia continued to practice his painting skill and unique approach to colors and perception.
He went on to yet another career: selling neckties based on his landscape paintings. Former President Bill Clinton was a well-known fan of the ties, often giving them as gifts.
RELATED STORIES TO ENJOY:
The Visual Art of 8 More Famous Musicians – Part 2
The Visual Art of 7 More Musicians – Part 3