The Face, No. 31 / April 1991, p.52-57
Meet Sylvester Stallone, the artist. He is not alone...
What is more surprising: that Sylvester Stallone had his first exhibition at a Beverly Hills art gallery in January or that someone was willing to pay $15.000 for his portrait of Marilyn Monroe? The fact that the exhibition was rumoured to make nearly $1 million says as much about the perceived value of celebrity artwork as it does about the celebrities themselves. Stallone is already very rich and successful movie star, but obviously feels a need to satisfy a creative hunger. At a recent exhibition in New York, several prints were auctioned to the public to raise money for charity. The artists included James Dean, Charles Bronson and David Bowie. At $ 1,300, Deanīs print raised the most money. Bowieīs at $ 500, the least. No one was allowed to photograph Deanīs work; Bowie appeared in various magazines, standing in front of what he refers to as his 'expressionist' paintings with a grin on his face. The exhibition in question was called 'Twice Gifted', a reference to celebrity artists who are more famous for work in other areas. But how gifted are these personalities and to what extent do they take advantage of the fame they already have? A host of pop stars attended art school before breaking in music, from Bowie, Ron Wood and Syd Barrettto Frazier Chorus, Talking Heads and Marc Almond, but not all of them exploited or are exploiting their fame to draw attention to their artwork. Stone Roses fans treasure the bandīs Jackson Pollock-style record covers, but guitarist / sleeve designer John Squire denies being an artist. Time Out art critic Sarah Kent and Art Line editor Mike von Joel have cast a critical eye over the artwork, not always guessing the artistīs identity and not pausing to consider their celebrity status before drawing conclusions. Judging by their comments, itīs obvious that some celebrities shouldnīt give up their day jobs just yet.
S Y L V E S T E R S T A L L O N E
The fam infamous for his monosyllabic oneliners and limited roles (Rocky, Rambo) has donned a pair of John Lennon glasses and done some credible paintings - or "images" of "celebrities destroyed by fame" as he refers to them - which he wants to be taken seriously and which are selling for $ 15,000 or more. "Time is my obsession. Time is everything, itīs always passing by. Time. What do they say? Timing is everything, itīs what makes or breaks us. I donīt know. I think, when you really look at it, itīs what runs peopleīs lives ... I can do better than this. This is good. But I can do better." (Talking to Premiere magazine at the Beverly Hills exhibition)
SARAH KENT: "This is one of the crassest images I have ever seen. Itīs so silly and full of pretension. I can peel away paper-thin layers of symbolism so easily. The Godzilla-like figure is supposed to represent wild or natural man, with words like 'power' and 'savages'. The superimposed clock suggests Godzilla is trapped in time... itīs Levi Straussī idea of nature versus culture, but interpreted in a naff and childish way. I wouldnīt give you tuppence for it. The macho myth is nasty and dangerous; itīs not innocent."
MIKE VON JOEL: This is instantly recognisable as Sly. Itīs the sort of painting produced by somebody whoīs incredibly and sincerely interested in art, but who falls foul of the concept that anyone can do it. This picture shows he canīt do it and is probably encouraged in this sort of rubbish by the Hollywood system. Itīs like a fifth-rate Jean-Michel Basquiat. Iīd call it 'direct painting'... itīs absolute rubbish, it has no merit at all. But it is done sincerely."
J O H N S Q U I R E
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Stone Roses guitarist John Squire designs the bandīs record sleeves, borrowing freely from Jackson Pollock. Ironically, Pollock also denied being an artist. "I wouldnīt call myself an artist. Iīve never tried to pass off my paintings as my own. I ripped of Jackson Pollock, but only because we couldnīt afford the original."
SARAH KENT: "Once someone has done this style of art, itīs very easy to copy it. Itīs decorative and totally meaningless, although itīs quite well done. But itīs not exploring or discovering anything particularly new. Itīs like 'so what?'"
MIKE VON JOEL: "The abstract expressionism and juxtaposition of colour in this isnīt done amateurishly at all, itīs done by someone with a good eye for colour and form. Itīs an action paiting, itīs got a dynamism that works. The size is very important... itīd have to be very big. This isnīt an abortion at all, apart from the fact that it looks like heīs used house paint as opposed to oil paints or acrylics."
W I L L I A M S B U R R O U G H S
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William S Burroughs is most famous for two things. For books such as the controversial Sixties cult novel Naked Lunch, and for shooting his wife. Within the art world his paintings are equally contentious, notable his set of late-Eigthies paintings - doors or pieces of plywood blasted with a shotgun. He had his first exhibition in the UK at Londonīs October Gallery a year ago, at the age of 76. "A painting can take as long as 20 minutes, whereas a novel might take a year or more. Iīm as deeply into painting as writing now; it occupies practically all my time." (Talking to Art Time)
SARAH KENT: "Heīs rather a serious person, offering himself as a serious artist. Probably in a way his paintings are almost interesting, but ultimately they probably arenīt. The shotgun door idea could be a lot more disturbing, it could imply menace or danger. Thereīs no sense of threat or anxiety."
MIKE VON JOEL: "This door is complete rubbish to my mind. Thatīs all there is to say. Itīs like someoneīs picked up half a dozen influences from a contemporary art magazine and thought: 'I can do that', when they canīt. Niki Saint Phalle, the internationally renowned artist, used the same technique of an airgun fired at a painting in the Fifties and Sixties."
D A V I D B O W I E
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Not content with being an international household name as a pop star who was once innovative and interesting, David Bowie made one good film, The Man Who Fell To Earth, and several instantly forgettable films, before returning to his art school days by turning a hand to painting. "Iīm a hardend old expressionist. Thatīs the period I adore. I guess I just feel more comfortable painting within that genre." (Talking to Rolling Stone at the Twice Gifted exhibition in New York)
SARAH KENT: "Heīs obviously been looking at the Austrian expressionists Kokoschka and Klimt. Klimt had the idea of himself as an outsider and a rebel, as holding a mirror up to society and accusing it of being hypocritical, especially in relation to sexual morals. David Bowie is possibly in a similar role. He has created challenging images in real life; but this lithograph is two-dimensional, itīs slight, light, derivative, too much like a comic strip."
MIKE VON JOEL: "Not a bad drawing at all. Itīs done in Marc Chagall style... itīs not just linear, thereīs a whole mixture of marks which tend to demonstrate that he has an understanding of the art of drawing."
D A V I D L Y N C H
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The director responsible for films such as Blue Velvet and Wild at Heart and the TV soap success Twin Peaks, David Lynch, like Derek Jarman, was in fact a painter before he began making films. "When it comes to painting, itīs the darker things I find really beautiful. All my paintings are organic, violent comedies. They have to be violently done, and primitive and crude, and to achieve that I try to let nature paint more than I paint and stay out of the way as much as I can. In fact, I donīt paint with a brush too much any more - I prefer to use my fingers. Iīd bite them if I could." (From the catalogue of his recent Tokyo exhibition)
SARAH KENT: "I quite like this, itīs quite interesting because itīs rather strange, thereīs a naivity about it. Other celebrity artist are trying to be cool and sophisticated and are failing. His attitude is ambigous. Itīs such a charming little image, the way the tension is created between the way itīs painted and the subject."
MIKE VON JOEL: "This is deliberately naive and childlike, but maybe thatīs the interest point of a painting such as this, especially from someone obviously otherwise sophisticated."
J I M M Y C A U T Y
The KLF have many guises - The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu, The Jams, the Timelords, to name a few. Jimmy Cauty and Bill Drummond have many skills - apart from making chart-topping records, they also make films and videos. But in 1974, at the age of 17, Jimmy almost became an artist. He drew a Tolkien poster of Gandolph which became the biggest-selling print of the Seventies.
"A guy from Athena actually flew in a helicopter to my house to get the poster and gave me 500 pounds and 12 percent royalties, which I thought was an absolute fortune īcos I was on the dole. Apparently it was mostly student nurses who bought it. At school I used to do everyoneīs art homework in exchange for the answers to other subjects. But I didīt go on to college. Bill and I have been working on a comic called Deep Shit for about a year - I do the illustrations and he does the words. Itīs the adventure of The Jams; Iīm made of bricks with a pyramid head and Billīs a five-year-old boy. But it takes ages īcos I have to be in the right mood to do it, itīs so personal, whereas with music I just get stuck in. People think you canīt be good at two things, but why not?"
SARAH KENT: "The graphics are quite sophisticated, heīs someone with a graphic skill. But itīs totally unoriginal, it belongs to a school of hobgoblins and fairies. Masses were done in the Sixties at the height of hippydom, started by Oz magazine. I donīt like these kinds of graphics at all, but itīs a good example of its kind. Itīs intricate and spindly with shapes borrowed from pre-Raphaelites."
MIKE VON JOEL: "This is a very accomplished and competent drawing. The guyīs obviously had graphic design training. He can certainly handle his media. The imagery is very dated Seventies heavy metal stuff, taken from a direct line of fantasy artists."
N I C K R H O D E S
In 1984, at the height of Duran Duran mania, keyboard player Nick Rhodes published Interference, a book of polaroids taken from a TV screen, which was followed by an exhibition. Not surprisingly, his fans bought the book, but Rhodes suffered criticism in the press and his work was considered to be a joke by many. He is now working on a multi-mediaw exhibition to be staged some time next year. "Iīm very proud of Interference; the Polaroids were terribly obscure-looking things. Everyone can do it, itīs just a matter of taste and choice. In this country itīs exceedingly bad taste for people to do more than one thing; itīs like taking advantage of your fame. Man Ray is my photo heroe, he was a master of photography and development. Iīm not quite that clever. I use Polaroids because I think theyīre more ... surreal. I like broken-up lines. And Iīm incredibly impatient."
SARAH KENT: "This is totally pointless. I can see what heīs trying to do, just producing little abstract images. If it was bigger ... but as it is, itīs totally uninteresting. Why didnīt he choose fag ends or electric sockets as subject matter? This doesīt tell you anything thatīs new."
MIKE VON JOEL: "This looks like something that Brian Eno might have done. It looks like a computer-generated image, itīs not as thought itīs meant to be presented as art per se."
C A R L H U N T E R
Guitarist with The Farm, Carl Hunter has a degree in graphic design from Liverpool Poly. He works with Miles Falkingham on the bandīs record sleeves and promotional goods, such as the "Spartacus" soap boxes. "Itīs great to get away from playing guitar, you have to have something to keep you sane. Like The Jam and The Clash made me want to get into music, Jamie Reid made me want to work with graphics. It was the time when graphic design on record sleeves - like The Buzzcocks and The Sex Pistols covers - were good, and not so commercial as they are now. Iīve just done 12 cassette covers for that horrendous pipe music you hear in supermarkets."
SARAH KENT: "I like it. It shows some visual intellect. I like the way heīs collaged on bits and pieces which refer you to other kinds of art. It puts the music in context, puts you in the mood to listen to the music. Heīs obviously studied graphic design."
MIKE VON JOEL: "With art ideas like this, you have to be so aware of the final scale, itīs an intrinsic ingredient to art. Itīs quite a difficult proposal to retain an impact on something thatīll end up two by four inches. This works admirably within that context."
P E R R Y F A R R E L L
Singer with LA band Janeīs Addiction, Perry Farrell designs the artwork for the LP sleeves, basing his ideas around sculptures and collages. Sleazy and unconventional, his images draw attention to his interest in three-way sex and his appreciation of the female body - and, of course, they annoy the American so-called 'moral majority'. He has been working on a Warner Bros-sponsored feature film to be entitled the gift. "The first thing I ever sold professionally was at the age of seven. My father was a jewellery designer and in the early Seventies I made this peace sign which was a bestseller. When I left home I took some jewellery tools with me, so I could always be sure of finding work wherever I went. I didnīt get into doing music until I was 23, and that was only by accident... itīs a problem to carry on devoting time to art. I should be happy just doing music, but sometimes I just love the selfishness of doing one piece. But I do use my artwork on stage, which makes me much happier to tour."
SARAH KENT: "I canīt tell if this double nude is sculpture which has been photographed, or a photographed person which has been played with in the darkroom. The image is very striking and powerful. The mask-like faces and exaggerated breasts and top light make it striking. But why has he joined them down the middle to make them Siamese twins? That way of using women is such a cliché. An unjoined image would have been a lot stronger, it would have been very dramatic and stark without having the problem of mutilation."
MIKE VON JOEL: "You might have seen Bob Carlos Clarke do it in the early Seventies... itīs old hat, and derivative. But itīs effective consumer photography and competely done."
M I C K K A R N
Mick Karn has always been arty, with his shaved eyebrows and cultural projects with the likes of Peter Murphy. Most famous as bass player with Japan, he has made some 50 sculptures in the past 13 years, showing them at two exhibitions in London and three in Japan. "Making sculptures is a much more personal thing than music, you feel much more in control. I did feel as though people were coming to the exhibition because of the music, although I got great press in the UK. I had an exhibition in Italy three years ago where I was treated as a sculptor and not a musician. It was really nice. Iīve done nothing since.
SARAH KENT: "This is completely ridiculous, itīs adolescent nonsense. It appears to be very shocking and frightening and disturbing, but instead itīs titillating. I donīt know what the two little figures at the bottom are about. The symmetry of tension between the man and the woman just doesnīt work."
MIKE VON JOEL: "This is a terrible sculpture really, itīs full of clichés. He must be an old hippy at heart."
P R I N C E C H A R L E S
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Prince Charles has agreed to publish a book of approximately 70 of his watercolours ro raise money for the Prince of Wales Charity Trust and there are plans for an accompanying exhibition. The heir to the throne has been painting for ten years, sometimes with tutoring from experienced artists. He was unavailable for comment, but keen Royalists will find the Princeīs own introduction to the book - which should appear in the autumn - apparently full of anecdotes.
SARAH KENT: "This watercolour is charming, if slightly inconsequential, harmless and certainly not worth anything like the vast amount of money he sells them for; but if he can raise a lot of money for charity, then Iīm delighted."
MIKE VON JOEL: "A traditional-style watercolour done by someone who uses it as therapy - and thatīs not a criticism. Itīs a conscintious amateur painting. Itīs not Prince Charlesī fault that certain people want to pay a lot of money for a picture because itīs by him."