Pretenders Singer Paints a Raw Picture
It is not uncommon for rock musicians to seek another creative outlet in fine art, especially as their touring days begin to ebb. Their artist statements or biographies tend to lean heavily on their musical achievements to add gravitas to their art résumé. Phrases like “best known as the singer/guitarist/drummer of the band ________” are typical.
Bob Dylan makes folksy paintings and drawings of American diners, hotels and railroads.
WHO: Chrissie Hynde
WHAT: Adding The Blue
WHERE: Franklin Bowles Gallery, 4311 West Broadway, New York
WHEN: November 30, 2018 – December 5, 2018
Joni Mitchell considers herself a painter more than a musician; John Mellencamp creates portraits that hark back to a Depression-era time period out of mixed-media on plywood. Cars leader Ric Ocasek paints with magic markers. Patti Smith picked up a vintage Polaroid camera in 1996 and instantly became a fine art photographer. Richard Butler of the Psychedelic Furs, trained as a painter when he was young, creates lush portraits that mirror his lyrics about the jaded ‘70s and ‘80s club scenes.
Always keen to see what kind of artwork a famous musician produces, I attended a private reception for Chrissie Hynde’s show in SoHo, at Franklin Bowles Gallery. The pop-up was only open from November 30th to December 5th. Ms. Hynde, the Ohio native who made her rock bones as the frontwoman of the Pretenders, was supposed to attend the reception and participate in a gallery talk the following day but, due to bronchitis, was unable to fly from her London home to make the dates.
It makes me nostalgic to attend openings in Soho. I remember when that area of the city was the center of the art world. Coincidently, that was when the Pretenders had their break-out hit, “Brass in Pocket,” in 1979 and found international fame.
The show consisted of approximately 30 canvases of abstracts, portraits and still lifes. Her new career started with images of vases, hung at the entrance of the exhibit. According to her artist statement, she studied painting as a Kent State student but abandoned it when her music career took off. After she turned 65, Hynde began painting again and created several traditionally rendered vases. With this work, she broke the surface. She spent the following two years painting obsessively, unstoppably, producing some 200 canvases of original work.
The show’s main purpose was to promote the limited-edition (1,000), signed hardcover volume of her complete works by Genesis Publications. The 212-page coffee-table book, with hard cover case, is produced by a publisher who has done the same for David Bowie and Ronnie Wood of the Rolling Stones.
There is no doubt that Hynde has energy, skill and determination. The show was basically a sketchbook splashed onto pre-made canvases and would have greatly benefited from a stricter edit. Some of the art reproduced in the book was better than the work on the walls, with her portraits being the best of all. The speed to capture an essence worked with her strengths as a painter.
The spirit of the work recalls the DIY days of the 1970s, when new wave bands took control of their destiny by creating their own zines and clubs, PR agencies and record labels. They did not wait to be discovered, they created their own path to a larger audience. Chrissie Hynde became a success during this time when musicians saw no barriers to their advancement, and perhaps her painting is a continuation of the same ethos.