"In art you are total controller. It's a visual thing. You see the creation bit by bit and you have the chance to correct and to build it," says John Mayall, one of six musicians whose art is collected in an exhibit called "Starart," now showing at San Francisco's Vorpal Gallery.
Unfortunately, none of the six artists whose works make up "Starart" is in total control of his/her work. Considering that they are all rock stars, this is not very surprising.It's difficult enough to become a first-rate painter when that is all that you do, let alone when you have to squeeze it in between gigs.
In 1976, 22-year-old Debbie Chesher, a former art student with little connection to the music business, came up with the idea of putting together a coffee-table artbook. She wanted to include the works of Joni Mitchell, John Mayall, Klaus Voorman, Cat Stevens, Ron Wood and Commander Cody all of whom started out in art schools and all of whom still consider it a second talent. Mayall and Voorman have both worked for several years as commercial artists.
The show which first appeared in L.A., then went to New York, and is now wrapping up in San Francisco, was an outgrowth of Chesher's book. The book was self-published, beautifully designed and is infinitely more interesting than the show.
Most everyone is familiar with Joni Mitchell's, Cat Stevens' and John Mayall's paintings and illustrations, since they have frequently designed their own album jackets. Klaus Voorman, who designed the then-radical black and white cover for the Beatles' Revolver LP, was featured in a show last year at the Oakland Museum, "Record Album Art." Voorman (the Manfred Mann Band) is a renowned session artist and is presently scoring the film Popeye with Harry Nilsson. His name was suggested to Chesher by Ringo Starr, who is an avid collector and owns many of Voorman s pieces.
The real surprise of "Starart" is Ron Wood, who seems to be constantly drawing his famous friends and who captures their essences and likenesses quite competently with colored pencils. "Belushi on Plane Killers" is the best of the exhibit. Wood's drawings of his wife and children, however, which only appear in the book, reveal that life as a Rolling Stone is not as hard-assed as it's cracked up to be.
Commander Cody has a MFA and used to teach art in Michigan. His real talent lies in sculpture, though none are shown here; the Warhol/Lichenstein popstyle he chooses to paint in has been done to death, and done much better, by others.
All in all, "Starart" exhibits more vivaciousness than virtuosity. The paintings or drawings of other musicians are often the most exciting. Mayall's Dizzy Gillespie and Mitchell's two of Charlie Mingus, for example, are great. I especially liked "Charlie Down in Mexico," which shows Mingus from behind, sitting in a wheelchair and wearing a large sombrero.
This study of shadows and shapes is evocative of the man himself. "Even though he was paralyzed and given to moodiness, he was still capable of enjoying things to a tremendous fullness. So I was compelled to paint this to balance out the other vision of him that contains the wrestling with fear and death," says Mitchell.
"Starart" can be seen at the Vorpal Gallery, 393 Grove St., S.F. through March 16.
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