Artpop: Musicians Who Moonlight as Visual Artists

With musicians increasingly finding inspiration in visual mediums, your favorite songwriter may also be your favorite painter.

Johnny Firecloudby Johnny Firecloud

We know them as the songwriters behind our favorite classics, the radio hits and gems that have filled our lives with sound over the years. But many successful musicians also have a distinct love for visual expression, and take it well beyond strange outfits and wild makeup. With a canvas and paint, these artists have established their own style and character through the brush – here are a few noteworthy examples: 

Marilyn Manson

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You think you know Marilyn Manson? The shock-rocking apocalyptic antihero identifies himself a watercolor painter, and his remarkable creations orbit a self-created art movement: Celebritarian Corporation. His work has been exhibited in Berlin, Paris, and Vienna, and is deliciously dark in its execution.

 

Rich Robinson

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Rich Robinson is best known as the co-founder of Bohemian hippie rockers the Black Crowes, but also moonlights as a visual artist with remarkable ability. His thoughts on the process and inspiration behind what he does:

“My inspiration to paint comes from the possibility of what could be. I love to use oils because they take a while to dry. While I’m painting, it changes as the paint combines, which then influences the content of what I’m painting. For me, the painting process differs from music because of the solitude involved. It starts and stops when I decide. The similarity is the way I’m influenced,” he explains. “With music, it’s the sonics that influence me. A tone can spark a whole song. With painting, it’s the color and textures that influence me. I layer on the paint and as the textures develop, the painting takes shape. The general relationship is different because of the number of senses used. With guitar it’s my ear that dictates the song and moves me. With painting it’s the feel of the paint, the feel of the brush in your hands, the smell of the paint and the depth of what I’m seeing. Music is much more ethereal.”

 

Joseph Arthur

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Peter Gabriel’s protegé and label mate on Real World Records has always been a visually driven artist. His eye for the abstract is distinct, and his appreciative inspiration is evident in the following poem he wrote about the craft.

“Painting might be impossible to write about

It’s a place beyond words from where it comes

It’s nature showing strange flowers

It’s a drug that obliterates the self

It’s a mirror in the spirit world

It’s where the shadows come out to play

It’s a shared hallucination

It’s dream made material set ablaze in the night

Maybe it goes beyond everything else

Like playing a guitar without strings

It’s a place man meets God and says

What the fuck

I love to paint

It’s where I go to church”

 

Joni Mitchell

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Though she is suffering from failing health these days, the incredible Joni Mitchell is “a painter first, and a musician second”. A number of her paintings grace the covers of her albums, including Clouds, Ladies of the Canyon and Both Sides Now. Her self-portraits are perhaps her most remarkable, one of which can be seen above..

 

Ronnie Wood

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The Rolling Stones’ Ronnie Wood had original ambitions to become a successful visual artist, following in the footsteps of his brothers. He even trained at the Ealing Art College in London, where Freddie Mercury and Pete Townshend also attended in the 1960s. His musical abilities took him to great heights with The Stones, The Faces and the Jeff Beck group, though he never stopped practicing his true love: painting. Wood is even the co-owner of a London art gallery called Scream.

 

Grace Slick

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The voice behind psychedelic intensity in the ‘60s changed gears to visual mediums in the ‘80s. The vocal centerpiece of Jefferson Airplane and Jefferson Starship has had her Alice in Wonderland-centric art displayed in dozens of high-profile exhibits and is represented by several galleries in the U.S.

 

John Lennon

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Long before he was a member of the Fab Four, John Lennon found his first love: art. With training at the prestigious Liverpool Art Institute, (before being expelled for bad behavior), Lennon kept up his chops and earned serious respect as a visual artist. Interestingly, Lennon’s hand stamped signature was designed to read “Like a Cloud, Beautiful Sound.”