When Guitars Aren't Enough: 10 Musicians And Their Visual Arts

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Joseph Arthur

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“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”

Joseph Arthur was discovered by Peter Gabriel and subsequently signed to Gabriel’s record label, Real World Records. Arthur has since released three more full-lengths, including his latest, Our Shadows Will Remain and the ’99 EP, Vacancy, which received a Grammy nod for Best Recording Package. Arthur has always been a visual artist, specializing in earthy, abstract styles.

Jon Langford (Mekons)

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“I’m a product of the British art-school system—all muscled up on what I didn’t want to do, but with no clue as to what I should do. Like an honorable horde of art students before me, I joined a band and took my revenge on the world in that way instead. Only after moving to Chicago in the early ’90s did I really consider painting again, superficially side-stepping my rigorous fine-arts background to make weird little song-painting icons about my bumpy ride on the record-biz highway and my love/hate relationship with America and its fabulous musical legacy.

I mainly paint from publicity photos of classic ’50s and ’60s honky-tonk singers, but have expanded of late to include spaceships, chickens and trout. These works are nearly all autobiographical in sneaky tangential ways and represent my unease at the widening chasm between popular culture and the realities of the frightening, homogenized post-democratic society we live in.”

Jon Langford’s career began as a founding member of British punk band the Mekons, which was spawned by the Leeds University scene of the mid-to-late ’70s. Since his start, just over 20 years ago, the Mekons have reinvented themselves countless times, and Langford has also been behind the Pine Valley Cosmonauts and frontman of the Waco Brothers. On his latest album, Mayors of the Moon, he explores his eclectic musical tastes with Yep Roc band The Sadies.

Louie Perez (Los Lobos)

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“When I sat down to write songs for the album Kiko in the spring of 1991, I was spending my down time painting like crazy in the basement of the house I was living in at the time in Whittier, Calif. It was no coincidence that a lot of that musical and lyrical info made its way into the pictures I was making. I’ve painted and drawn all my life, well before my mom bought me my first guitar at a local music store in East L.A. So it’s hard to say what comes first, the song ideas or the art. They seem to ebb and ?ow with whatever of the two I happen to be doing. ‘Kiko’s Cat’ was done during the late nights after recording, when I was way too worked up to get to sleep. I can say for sure that the songwriting comes from a visual place, substituting the paint and pencils with words and music. The songs live in my head as images before they ever become music. Sometimes they never make it into songs, and if time and luck are my friends, those ideas will become paintings instead. My wife, Mary, says both propositions make me cranky.”

Louie Perez, guitarist and vocalist for legendary latin rockers Los Lobos, has been friends with bandmate David Hidalgo since they met in the back of art class while attending East L.A.’s Garfield High School. It’s been a 30-year ride in Los Lobos for the two friends, and in the ’90s the pair also formed successful side project The Latin Playboys. Perez, also a painter, has passed his passion for art and music to his children. “All our kids are real creative,” Perez told Paste in issue #10, “they all play music, they paint and they write.”

Robyn Hitchcock

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“I was drawing long before I was able to play music. I could do a passable drawing of a helicopter exploding or Jesus with a gun while I was still hitting my grandma’s piano like an angry penguin, wondering why the result didn’t sound like “She Loves You.” Come adolescence, all my characters replaced the weapons in their hands with guitars. Spinning LPs and drawing my way through the late ’60s, my creations began to sprout roots from their toes, and their hair grew into dripping candles. Dylan, Love, The Doors and the Incredible String Band were all great to draw to, but my favorite was Captain Beefheart, himself a painter. Gradually I learned guitar chords and would increasingly put down my pencil and strum along to the music that was playing on my portable stereo. Eventually, the inevitable happened, and I started writing songs: misshapen, word-heavy ditties that made the Spruce Goose seem like a Grumman Avenger in comparison. Meanwhile I had a spell at art school, which left me with a basic training for all the pictures I’ve made since. For the last 30 years I’ve thought of myself as a musician; but whenever the guitar (or my grandma’s piano, now downstairs) has nothing new to show me, I pull out the pencil, the canvas and the brush, to see what comes. It’s a truism to say art and music are related; like saying Australia is near New Zealand. In my experience, drawing and painting helps me resolve ideas in my brain; composing or playing music is an emotional necessity, releasing elusive ideas and feelings, exorcising what’s really in your heart. I’m lucky I can do either, but I still can’t dance.”

Robyn Hitchcock’s storied resume began in 1970 when he wrote “Baby” with a school friend and formed his first band “The Beatles,” a year after the real Beatles broke up. Hitchcock formed other groups throughout his career including The Soft Boys in the late ’70s and Robyn Hitchcock & The Egyptians in the late ’80s plus an on-again, off-again solo career. He also runs his own label, editionsPAF!. Hitchcock was featured in the film Storefront Hitchcock, has starred in a TV adaptation of Tony Parsons’ book, Man And Boy, and as a “sinister operative” in The Manchurian Candidate.

Sam Prekop (The Sea and Cake)

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“I paint automatically, each picture a collection of habits, trademarks and signatures, organized to be static for split seconds. Assemblages of landscape becoming architectural. Structure for color, windows at every part of the day. I’m looking for a particular beauty that shouldn’t be there.

The music, always ?eeting. Strikes sporadically, but I can’t help it. It’s also like painting automatically, and the work comes with figuring out what I couldn’t hear any other way. I miss painting when I’m making music and vice versa.”

Sam Prekop first garnered public attention as leader of the band Shrimp Boat. In 1999, he released his self-titled debut and followed with two full-length CDs from his band The Sea and Cake, as well as a solo EP. Prekop has also been making his name as a painter and photographer. His paintings have been shown in galleries from New York to Paris. Who’s Your New Professor is his first solo LP in five years.

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