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24 Musicians Share Their Paintings

August 30, 2012  |  9:30am

My favorite Father’s Day present was a set of paints and canvases from my kids. Sitting and painting together, I realized that it could be a much more relaxing and pressure-less creative outlet for me than writing—which was tied to my livelihood. Talking with musicians, it seems the same thing is often true for them—that there’s a definite tie between their music and visual art, but that they serve as different kinds of therapy for the soul.

So many of our favorite songwriters have found that there’s more than one way to scratch that creative itch. We asked 23 musicians—including Mindy Smith, Julianna Hatfield, Robyn Hitchcock, Joseph Arthur and Ani DiFranco—about their love of painting and to share some of their works.

1. Mindy Smith
New York native Mindy Smith moved to Nashville, where she won the Americana Award for Best New Artist in 2004 following her debut, One Moment More. She now has five studio albums, including the Christmas album My Holiday, under her belt. Her latest, Mindy Smith, was self-released in June.

When did you first start painting?
As early as 15 years, then on and off throughout my life.

Are you inspired by a particular painter or artistic movement?
I am a huge fan of Vincent Van Gogh. You can probably see that reflected in the way I use colors and ordinary objects. I do enjoy most methods and movements, but like most people certain pieces just move me more than others.

How does painting differ from music as a creative outlet for you?
I have always turned to the empty canvas when I find music a struggle emotionally, professionally and creatively. I am not however, always inspired regardless of the creative medium.

Where can we see your work in person?
In my office stacked one on top of the other.

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By Mindy Smith

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By Mindy Smith

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By Mindy Smith

2. Kurt Wagner (Lambchop)
Since 1986, Kurt Wagner has fronted a large and ever-revolving cast of bandmates in the Nashville post-country group Lambchop, which released its 11th album on Merge Records this year.

When did you first start painting?
I started painting in the ’70s in art school. But I really didn’t focus on it until my last year of grad school around 1983. It just seemed like a more practical way of working once I left the cozy art-school bubble.

Are you inspired by a particular painter or artistic movement?
There are many inspiring artists that I look to like records in a record collection. Lately I’m drawn to the classics if only to study how they use paint and subject matter. There seems to be a level of proficiency reached in the 17th to 19th century that I find attractive these days.

How does painting differ from music as a creative outlet for you?
For myself, the main difference is the solitary aspect of its making. It’s not so collaborative as music is in its process. Other than that I find there to be more similarities than differences.

Where can we see your work in person?
My house. Stop on by.

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By Kurt Wagner

3. Joseph Arthur
Ohio native and New York resident Joseph Arthur has released nine albums since 1997. His paintings are often incorporated in his album covers, leading to a Grammy nomination for Best Recording Package in 2000 for his EP Vacancy.

When did you first start painting?
I didn’t really start so much as never stop. My style is rough, so I figured I sucked at it. But when I was a kid, my mother told me that my drawings had a lot of personality, and her early encouragement went a long way. I never went to college but my sister did, and majored in art and that also had an influence. She’s a great painter.

Are you inspired by a particular painter or artistic movement?
My favorites are de Kooning, Basquiat, Pollock, Rauschenberg and Cy Twombly. I remember a friend of mine took me to a museum in Alabama when I lived in Atlanta in the early ’90s, and she said, “There’s this painter you need to check out.” I was pretty ignorant in matters of art and didn’t much look forward to making that trek to go see a painter’s work in a museum but when we walked in, my mind was blown. I couldn’t believe something could be so punk rock and yet refined in certain ways. It was a big Jean Michel Basquiat retrospective. That definitely had an impact.

How does painting differ from music as a creative outlet for you?
Well, for me it’s less pressure and even less precious, I think, because I made my livelihood with music long before I started making any money with the paints, so there’s always been a little more freedom for me in it. However, the process of painting is remarkably similar to the process of recording. Sometimes I think in terms of painting when I mix. For instance, both things use layers to degrade and clarify the expression. I’ve learned things in painting that I’ve applied to music and vice versa.

Where can we see your work in person?
This year I’ve had exhibitions in New York City, Paris, Los Angeles, Pennsylvania and Bielefeld, Germany. There are more to be announced soon, and in the meantime I always have an online gallery which can be viewed at museumofmodernarthur.com.
Also, I have original paintings, prints, posters, notecard sets, etc., all featuring my art, for sale on my online store: josepharthur.store-08.com/painting-of-the-month/.

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Joseph Arthur’s paintings on guitar

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Michael Stipe and Joseph Arthur at Arthur’s gallery showing

4. Juliana Hatfield
After fronting the Blake Babies from 1986 to 1991, Juliana Hatfield has released a dozen solo studio albums and two records with Some Girls (along with Freda Love and Heidi Gluck). She also published a memoir, When I Grow Up, in 2008.

When did you first start painting?
I painted a lot as a child and then at some point—around high -age—I put painting on the backburner to do music instead. I started coming back to painting about 10 years ago.

Are you inspired by a particular painter or artistic movement?
There are certain artists that I like a lot—Mark Tobey, Morris Louis, Andrew Masullo, Joan Mitchell, Egon Schiele, Jenny Saville, Tom Wesselmann. Kind of a random modern-ish (mostly 20th-century) assortment.

How does painting differ from music as a creative outlet for you?
Painting requires more concentration and more time. It’s quieter, obviously, and more solitary. Painting hurts my brain in a way that music theory does—I’m forced to think about what I’m trying to do, and why, and how. Physically, they feel different, too— playing music can be a cathartic release whereas when I’m painting, I’m usually in a state of heightened anxiety the whole time.

Where can we see your work in person?
You can’t see my work in person unless you come to my house. I hope to get something together eventually—a public showing—but I’m not ready yet.

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By Juliana Hatfield

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By Juliana Hatfield

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By Juliana Hatfield

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