Ronnie Wood, Rock Star and Painter
~ In conversation with Karen Taylor
Hosting an exhibition of work by a legendary rock musician is a daunting experience, particularly when that legend is Rolling Stones base guitarist, Ronnie Wood. When planning the show we talked about his reputation as a painter. Initially the art world slated his painting. Most recently, David Lee, editor of Jackdaw the art magazine, reportedly said, "Wood still has some way to go. They are not dreadful. He is an enthusiast but not an artist."
When I ask if criticism worries him, Ronnie is philosophical. For Ronnie Wood, painter, his admirers now outnumber those who would diminish him. Brian Sewell, long regarded as one of the country's loftiest art critics, recently pronounced Wood "an accomplished and respectable painter". Ronnie is suitably appreciative. "I paint well. I know it, you know it. There's no arguing really, is there? Now, I'm being taken seriously, I've got highfalutin' art collectors and everything! I've even got poncey, snooty British art critics on my side. It's true! They've accepted me, and it's blown my mind, I'll be honest with you, it has."
If the satisfaction is obvious, the reasons are not egotistical. There is no sticking two fingers up to the world. Although he rarely takes himself seriously, nobody could mistake Wood’s serious dedication to his painting. The passion and study of a lifetime shines through. When I ask which artists have inspired him, he is quick to respond - "I admire the great masters in particular Picasso, Degas and Rodin. I suppose Rembrandt is my favourite artist.’
He is equally quick to voice other opinions. ‘I appreciate most forms of art, but Damien Hirst’s art is a bit strange; weird. I went to the New York Museum of Modern Art recently and there were bits of newspaper stuck to the canvas combined with a brush stroke or two. It’s amazing what they call art these days. I don’t see what’s so different or so expensive about it.’
Which is not that he lacks enthusiasm for contemporary artists and when I asked which artists he is currently collecting he replied: "There is a whole crew of London guys I love like Banksy, Joe Rush, Rupert Shrive and Paul Insect. Lately I’ve been turned on to Naro Yasimoto an amazing Japanese artist and my old mate Sebastian Krüger."
Krüger is coming to London shortly to stay and paint with Wood. He has already painted several very different portraits of him. In the very stylised caricature entitled ‘Ron Wood, If He Could,’ Krüger has portrayed Wood in an exuberant manic mood. Thinking it captures the essence and personality of the man, I also wonder if on this visit Wood will reciprocate with a stylised caricature of Krüger?
Most artists have a favourite creation, and I ask which of his own works gave Wood the most pleasure. "I guess it would be Beggars Banquet which is an oil I did. I like the flow of it all and the burnt sienna colours. Saying that, I always like the one I am working on, which at the moment is a series of etchings."
But it is the Beggars Banquet that stays in my mind, especially a moment later when I ask which is his favourite painting. He is unequivocal. "The Guernica by Picasso," he says without hesitation.
What I find interesting is that both the Guernica by Picasso, and Beggars Banquet by Wood are large-scale paintings with complex symbolism and multiple hidden meanings. The mysteries of the Guernica have given rise to more ‘art’ interpretations than any other picture in history. It would be a staggering achievement for Wood to produce a painting that gave rise to similar artistic critiques for generations to come. I doubt such a thought has occurred to him, he’d think it pretentious if it did, but I’m reminded of it again when we talk of his journey as a painter. Where is he going? ‘I’ll go back to where I started, doing abstracts. I have a few examples. They’re heavily influenced by Picasso and Corbusier.’
Meanwhile as with painters of all generations, there are his experiments with different mediums. ‘I love working with acrylics, but you can’t beat oils even though they take longer to dry they are more malleable, the end result is always worth it.’
Asked about his favourite and most challenging subject, he gives the same answer as almost every painter I’ve met. ‘The nude form with its curves and lines, it’s like the ballet.’
He is currently working on a project for the Royal Ballet, painting a series of dancers, including Darcey Bussell, for an exhibition in Covent Garden at the end of the year.
When I wonder if he’d ever had time to visit galleries while on tour, he is emphatic. "Always make time! On the last tour I had some amazing experiences in galleries like The Prado in Madrid, MOMA in San Fran where I bumped into Chuck Close who gave me a private tour of his show, The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, Picasso and Rodin Museums in Paris, and The Frick Museum in New York was a real find."
I completely agree about The Frick Collection, it is housed in a stunning New York mansion at Seventieth Street and Fifth Avenue. It is one of the most magical museums in the world, containing some of the best-known paintings by the greatest European artists. www.frick.org If you haven’t discovered it yet, go!
Everyone has the ability to paint according to Wood. ‘Its all about personal expression," he says, ignoring such factors as talent and dedication or more simply taking them for granted.
I ask who he would most like to paint next? "I’d love to get Bill Clinton and Martin Scorsese together. We talked about it in NYC last year, it would be a great laugh." …can you imagine those three huge personalities playing music, chatting and painting… what a mix. I look forward to showing the paintings from that encounter.
Meanwhile, what to make of Ronnie Wood? Can he paint? Undoubtedly. He can most certainly draw. His sketch of Mick Jagger entitled ‘Voodoo Mick’ accomplished at speed during a rehearsal with the Stones perfectly captures the mobile, craggy face of Jagger in full flow. With this single image, Wood demonstrates his ability to capture personality as well as his skill as a draftsman.
My current favourite is his painting of Dylan. We were lucky enough to have the last of the limited edition screen prints of this in the exhibition (it sold on the first night). In this strong painting Wood has captured the man at peace ‘in the moment’ with his music. You sense the admiration and love Wood feels for his subject. What better way for one musician to portray another. Not bad for a crusty old rocker!
Whatever your opinion of the man and his music, his art, as they say, is ‘something else.’ I’m certainly thrilled to have the opportunity to exhibit this collection. The exhibition of the Limited Edition prints runs from 5th to 31st of May in the gallery.