The span of the human hand is greater than the distance between the eye and the ear. So it’s no surprise that artists, as well as viewers and listeners, are drawn both to music and visual art. Art school students drop out to form bands. Musicians fill sketchbooks and hotel stationary with drawings. Performance groups fall in love with the spectacle they seek to critique. We’re fans of it all, so we’ve rounded up 10 examples of contemporary artists crossing over between art and music.
“I’d like a single plum, floating in perfume, served in a man’s hat.” That’s how The Simpsons translated the Fluxus art movement into a drink order at Moe’s. As an avant-garde artist moving between New York, London and Tokyo, Ono’s work blended performance and conceptual art with feminism. Take her infamous “Cut Piece,” (1964) in which she offered scissors, and her clothed body, to a sadistic audience with a single instruction—cut. It’s just as unflinching is Season of Glass, a pop requiem to her slain husband John Lennon.
The Talking Heads frontman attended Rhode Island School of Design and the Maryland Institute College of Art before moving into music. The cover of the band’s More Songs about Buildings and Food is a collaged grid of 529 Polaroids he took of the band. Recent pieces include 2013’s interactive grid of guitar pedals and a 2008’s series of shaped bicycle racks placed around New York City.
Back in the late 1970s, Raymond Pettibon played bass in a Southern California punk band called Panic. When the band, which also included his brother Greg Ginn, discovered that name had been taken, Pettibon suggested a new one—Black Flag—and even designed the logo. Although he didn’t continue subbing with his brother’s band, Pettibon’s recognition as an artist has grew since the mid-‘80s. His pen and ink drawings (usually black and white, often with text) illustrate a darkly cartoonish world—one that’s in line with punk’s DIY modus operandi, but reaches in different directions to reflect upon a large swathe of American culture. Maintaining his connection to the music world, Pettibon notably designed the cover for Sonic Youth’s Goo.
Before joining the infamous, tragic “27 Club,” this downtown habitué covered New York in his SAMO graffiti, crashed the art world, and collaborated with famed pop artist Andy Warhol. He also formed a noise rock band called Gray (named after Gray’s Anatomy, a book which often inspired his paintings). Blending no-wave, ambient, and jazz, the music can be heard on the soundtrack to Glenn O’Brien’s film Downtown 81.
While most commonly known as a feminist icon and musician with Sonic Youth, Kim Gordon graduated from Otis College of Art and Design in the 1970s, and has exhibited around the world. Using materials like spray paint and glitter, the work has the diffuse presence of Sonic Youth’s washed out noise. Her text paintings—brief phrases like The Promise of Originality and Hair Police splattered on canvas—seem to parody Gordon’s awareness of her own rock celebrity.
Throbbing Gristle came out of a performance art collective COUM Transmissions, which staged disturbing psychosexual performances in England in the 1970s. Led by Genesis Breyer P-Orridge and Cosey Fanni Tutti, the group popularized industrial music and inverted all of the customs and platitudes of popular culture, often appropriating fascist imagery and modifying their bodies to shock the audience out of complacency.
Lonnie Holley has the rare pleasure of being an outsider artist in both the worlds of music and contemporary art. Details of his early years are unclear (he claims to have been traded for a bottle of whiskey at the age of four). His sculptures—often made out of carved sandstone and backyard bric-à-brac—have been on display at the American Folk Art Museum and the Studio Museum in Harlem. As a musician, he’s brought his psych-folk-blues on the road with Animal Collective and Dirty Projectors, as well as at festivals like Pickathon and Hopscotch.
Audiences around the world have flocked to this visual artist and composer’s 2010 piece “The Clock,” a 24-hour video montage that unfolds in real time. The Swiss-American Marclay has brought collage into the age of the mash-up, creating a body of work that pulls from top 40, pop art, and Hollywood to create a sum greater than its parts. His most shocking piece is “Guitar Drag,” (2000), a noisy elegy to the murdered James Byrd Jr.
Coming of age in early-1970s New York, Laurie Anderson struck a path with experimental performance art and composition on one side, and pop sensibilities on the other. The resulting body of recorded music, including albums like 1982’s Big Science, secures her place alongside artists like John Cage, Andy Warhol, and her late husband Lou Reed who consistently tried to challenge the current cultural norms through their work.
As a musician, Lizzi Bougatsos lends her singular vocals to bands like the experimental and borderline psychedelic Gang Gang Dance and I.U.D. As an artist, she has created sculptures that resembled anal beads, and sometimes is made out of ice. This legend of the downtown scene is equally at home in the Whitney Museum (she was in the 2008 biennial) and at the Brooklyn waterfront, drumming out 88 Boadrum, composed originally by Japanese noise-rock band Boredoms.