Art that rocks, dude
There always seems to be some skepticism attached to art by celebrities, and it is generally with good reason. Many famous people have taken up art as a hobby, or as a form of therapy. Galleries and fund-raisers are abound with artwork created by politicians and entertainers.
Few of these wannabes are classically trained, and the work is typically sold on the basis of its creator’s fame. So when you get to see work that is satisfyingly good, by someone known for another vocation, it is frequently a surprise. The artist’s celebrity status only serves to add interest, particularly if it is a world-renown person.
True, there are artists who are celebrities in their own right; think Andy Warhol, LeRoy Neiman, Peter Max and of course, Pablo Picasso, to name a few.
The owners of Masters Gallery already exhibited artwork by Rolling Stones’ guitarist, Ronnie Wood, and the legendary Grace Slick. When the Gateway Gallery became available at the end of last year, Masters saw an opportunity to focus an entire collection on artwork by rock stars, and in the process Gateway became the place to see and purchase “Art by Rock Legends.”
Ronnie Wood studied art in his native England and his talent becomes evident when viewing his paintings and drawings, albeit most on display are reproductions rather than originals. In fact, one is hard pressed to find any originals in the small gallery. Many of the reproductions are large runs, i.e., two hundred-fifty or more, and although that might diminish their value, it does make them more affordable, and a great collector’s item for the rock fan. There are one or two artist’s proofs available, and those are often the most interesting, if not more valuable to own.
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Among the numerous pieces by Wood, a few stand out from the rest. My favorites are portraits of Charlie Watts, the Stones’ drummer. His “Charlie II” and “Voodoo Charlie,” along with “Dylan” yes, that (Bob) Dylan, demonstrate a technical virtuosity. They are bold, assured and successful, and as expressionistic art, one of his most accomplished portraits is of lead guitarist Keith Richards, entitled “Touch.”
Other rockers whose work is on view include Grace Slick, who occasionally shows some innate talent, the best example being a copper plate etching titled, “Slick.” It is treated simply; with the lines of a nude being inspired and fluid in their handling.
For Beatle fans, there are several examples of handwritten lyrics by John Lennon. These are framed along with pictures of the “Fab Four.” The limited edition copies of manuscripts (if one considers hundreds of prints to be limited) are notable for their insight to songwriting by one of pop music’s masters.
Two amusing posters by R. Crumb are also available, as are fascinating lithographs by Jerry Garcia. Garcia, of Grateful Dead fame, had an artistic flair, and the small prints being shown are interesting to look at, as well as appreciate.
From a purely historical point of view, the photographs by Gene Anthony are exceptional for portraying the sense of lifestyle in Haight-Ashbury during the tumultuous ’60s. As art, they are beautifully handled and well worth the visit.
There is a photo too, by Herb Greene, capturing an historic moment in rock history. It is of the original Grateful Dead band joined by an atypically smiling, Bob Dylan.
Adding to the fun are amusing wood relief panels by Canadian hockey player Boileau, and prints by pop-culture artist Steve Kaufman. Kaufman’s art is graphic, and a bit reminiscent of Andy Warhol’s serigraphs. Fans of HBO’s “Sopranos” will enjoy his “portrait” of the show’s cast. Like most of Kaufman’s work, it is based on photography of the main subject.
The Gateway is just beginning to find its niche, and following a short, but successful first season, there are plans to add more rock ‘n’ roll memorabilia this summer. It is a gallery to watch and visit for both the collector and the merely curious.
Stew Mosberg is a freelance writer and recipient of a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. He is the author of two books on design and can be reached at WrtrF@aol.com.