Paul Stanley Behind The Paint


October 21, 2008

The Kiss front man and Beverly Hills resident takes a break from sold-out audiences in Europe to open up about what matters now: time with his family, blowout performances, and rocking the art scene

by Shayna Rose Arnold

It’s just after 8 o’clock in Stuttgart, Germany, when there’s a knock on Paul Stanley’s hotel room door. “You know what? Hold on a second,” he says into the phone, cutting into the conversation mid-sentence. There are some muffled sounds, the close of a heavy door, and then he’s back on the line. “The housekeeping people here have a very interesting thing they do,” he explains, half-amused. “At some point, if you have the ‘Do not disturb’ on the door, they turn it around so it says, ‘Make up the room’ and then knock on the door.” The tactic didn’t work: “I’m still not dressed, actually. I just decided to stay in my room today and catch up. I’m kicking back.”

With good reason. On his 30-shows-in-seven-weeks European tour celebrating Kiss’s 35th anniversary, the singer-songwriter and guitarist has been rocking–hard. “It’s been pretty crazy,” he boasts. “You can’t beat 55,000 people screaming your name. The demand has been huge and the crowds have been rabid.” For Stanley, performing Kiss’s grueling lineup and stage act night after night is revitalizing: “There are two or three hours a day that are euphoric, and 21 or so that are necessary.”

In fact, to hear him tell it, the physical challenge of touring is part of the glory–a small price to pay for staying on top of the world. “I train like any athlete,” he says. “There isn’t time to find out you haven’t trained long enough once you get in the ring, so I’m very dedicated to making sure that not only am I physically and mentally capable of doing the show, but that the fans get at least what they expect if not more. There’s a photo of me from a few nights ago jumping four feet in the air with my boots on.”

Pressed further, Stanley, who underwent hip surgery in 2005, acknowledges that he–and the band–have experienced growing pains. “The truth is there are no football players my age,” he concedes. “I’m just thankful that as things wear out they can kind of be tweaked and replaced. At this point, I feel like I had my 50,000-mile checkup and am good for another 50,000. At this point, I have no competition but myself.”

Pushing himself to the limit is nothing new for the star. Born in Queens, New York, in 1952, Stanley worked as a cabbie before forming Kiss in 1974 with Wicked Lester band mate Gene Simmons. Since then, he has performed the title role in the Toronto production of Phantom of the Opera, released solo albums, been inducted into the Long Island Music Hall of Fame, and kept one of the biggest bands in the world together, albeit with a rotating roster. Drummer Peter Criss, who first left the band in 1980, and guitarist Ace Frehley, who left in 1982, rejoined Stanley and Simmons for a top-grossing reunion tour in 1996 and 1997, but have since been replaced by Eric Singer and Tommy Thayer.

“One might say I’m lucky,” Stanley writes on “But I tell you, the harder you work the luckier you get. You can either be a victim in life who surrenders to failure and bitch about all your adverse experiences or you can take a deep breath and charge forward.”

Uncompromising, yes, but Stanley walks the talk. When his first wife, Pamela Bowen, filed for divorce in 2000, he took a deep breath, picked up some art supplies, and charged forward on an emotional journey that finds him, seven years later, enjoying financial success and critical acclaim as a painter.

Of course, at a time when celebrity is more commercial than ever–eBay had188,630 items listed as “entertainment memorabilia” on a recent day–rock star-turned-artist is an increasingly popular catch phrase. David Bowie, Grace Slick, Natalie Merchant, Brian Warner (aka Marilyn Manson), Bono, Jewel, and Tony Bennett have all shown work to varying success. Tori Amos sells hand-drawn winter greeting cards on her Web site.

What makes Stanley’s endeavor unique is his motivation. Whereas other artists may revel in expressing “another side” of themselves to adoring fans, marketing their work as virtual encounters, Stanley, perhaps because he approached painting as self-help and without the intention of starting an additional career, paints strictly by and for himself. “I never planned on showing anybody [my art],” he says. “I painted with the idea of doing something therapeutic and exciting for myself. I think if you approach things with too much concern for others you are kind of sabotaging yourself from the get-go.”

This internal focus gave way to the authentically self-conscious riff brightly captured in the reds, greens, yellow, and blues of his works. “I tend to paint a sense or reflection of what’s going on inside me and sometimes that is as much a discovery for me as it is for anybody else,” he says. “I don’t plan my work and I don’t sketch them out. I’d rather purge and see where I am at any given time. I certainly walked into it feeling, you know, not sure how it would turn out, but I have to say at this point it is one of the most rewarding things to walk into a gallery full of things created by me and basically for me.”

That’s not to say his pieces lack mass appeal. In 2007, he raked in about $2 million in painting sales through Wentworth Galleries–ironic for a child who failed art at the Manhattan School of Music and Art. That “had more to do with my own issues with authority figures,” he says. “I’m the hardest-working person in the world when I am doing what I want to do. I’m not great at fulfilling other people’s ambitions.” Early sales estimates for 2008 Stanleys art are double 2007, and his work has been evenly embraced by the art community and fans alike. Simmons even requested a piece for his house.

“Paul clearly works very hard on his art,” says David W. Streets, gallery director of the Celebrity Vault in Beverly Hills. “He really is striving to be a fine artist, and I think he is.”

A fine art advisor, broker, and appraiser for 22 years, Streets points out that garnering–and keeping–critical praise is no small feat for a celebrity artist. “Art critics generally pan actors and musicians because they start out at a different point,” he explains. “They have fame already, they start in major shows at major galleries, and there’s a lot of backlash and jealousy. It puts extra pressure on these stars to justify the art, justify its price. If all you have is crap with your name attached, you might make it big for a moment, but you won’t endure. Paul’s evolving as an artist.”

It’s an evolution Stanley can feel. Painting “has changed my life,” he says. “I define myself by the challenges I take on and I define myself by how well I do by my own assessment, and finding painting has allowed me to express a side that is much more solitary and much more intimate and personal than music.”

Stanley’s sense of accomplishment makes critical acclaim sweet–if unsolicited–icing on the cake. “I’m not schooled and perhaps that is my greatest strength,” he says slowly, as if just now realizing it. “I can certainly arrange music with an orchestra, but I am clueless at how to transcribe it. So I see any kind of critical acceptance of anything I do as a nice addition. What is so much more important to me is what someone who would want to take a piece home with them thinks. My problem with critics can sometimes be that they can intimidate people who wouldn’t find a lot of joy in art into never exposing themselves to it by telling the public your opinion isn’t valid because it isn’t educated. That doesn’t make any sense.”

When I point out he has just expressed Kiss’s anti-authority, against-the-rules, and against-all-odds manifesto, Stanley doesn’t miss a beat. “Well, it got me this far!” he laughs.

He’s right. Except that where he is might surprise fans who know him as Starchild, the hard-living, fire-breathing shock rocker who wrote such hits as “Strutter” and “Detroit Rock City.” Today, Stanley shares the Beverly Hills home he purchased in 1996 with his attorney wife, Erin Sutton, and their 3-year-old son, Colin, who is happiest in the bathtub with his dad. The couple will welcome their second child this winter.

When Stanley mentions his wife, his artistic bluster melts into affection. “We spend virtually all our time together,” he says. “When I hear about people needing breaks from each other then I think they probably married the wrong person. Erin is, for lack of a better term, my partner, my soul mate. There is no one I would rather spend my time with. There’s no one more stimulating or beautiful or fun.”

Theirs is a Beverly Hills love story. Stanley first laid eyes on Sutton when, while dining with a friend at Ago, he saw “this strikingly beautiful woman came walking in and just had an air about her that was totally captivating in a way that I had never quite felt,” he says. “I felt compelled to go talk to her. It was one of those situations where a higher power intervened.”

Since marrying in a “magical” ceremony in front of 175 guests at the Ritz-Carlton Huntington in Pasadena in 2005, the couple has settled in to everyday life in Beverly Hills: dinners out at Spago (“somewhere you can’t go wrong”), entertaining friends at home, and spending quiet nights in with Colin and Evan, Stanley’s 14-year-old son with Bowen.

“Parenting is something that you can’t do purely on reflex or on what’s familiar from what you saw at home,” he says. “You have to find what you believe is the right way to do it. Perhaps even my parents scratched their heads, but I am extremely proud of Evan. He is a terrific young man and it makes me that much more sure that the road ahead for Colin is a great one.”

When I ask if he ever dreamed he would be living this all-American domestic ideal, Stanley sighs. “Maybe when I was younger I wasn’t smart enough to realize how terrific that would be. I think for all the amazing times I had when I was at a different point in my life, there is a depth to my life now that probably wasn’t there, and didn’t need to be there then.”

Stanley’s devotion to his family makes this particular tour bittersweet–especially on days when his only visitor is a misguided housekeeper. “This is the longest I have been from my wife and family,” he says. “I’m coping as well as I can, but a day off is a blessing and a curse. It’s great to rest, but it gives me time to miss my family that much more. Between a [3-year-old] and a 14-year-old and a wife I’m crazy about, it’s hard to be gone.”

Luckily, there’s plenty to look forward to. In just a few short weeks after this interview, Stanley’s parents, Erin, her parents, Colin, and Evan will meet Stanley for a two-week family vacation at a Medici villa in Italy. After that, there’s singing, drawing, and painting with Colin (he uses crayons and colored pencils), renovating and redecorating their home (where the as-yet unsigned painting that first caught the art world’s eye hangs squarely in the living room alongside acoustic guitars and family photos), preparing for the baby, and possibly the development of Kiss II, a reality show the band is currently considering to form its next generation, which Stanley assures me would “in no way ever take the place of Kiss.”

“I’m not going anywhere that I know of,” he says as we wrap our conversation. “The band is rock solid. We have never been better. But life is supposed to continually evolve. Hopefully you are always on the train. Always moving forward. I can’t imagine reaching a point where I think I’ve gotten where I am going.”

The journey, at least, will be colorful.

Courtesy of