PAUL STANLEY IS PAINTING MORE THAN HIS FACE THESE DAYS:
February 28, 2009
Ben Johnson of Staten Island Live reports – Critics, it’s time to shake in your platform boots. Rock ‘n’ roll’s ‘Starchild” doesn’t put on his leather or smear his palette to impress you.
“I don’t live by anybody else’s sense of what my boundaries should be, or what their expectations or limitations might be, so whether it was doing ‘Phantom of the Opera’ or painting, or KISS, it’s all things that I look at and find appealing,” says KISS guitarist Paul Stanley, who will make special appearances with his paintings at two galleries in New Jersey this weekend. “What the art world thinks honestly has no more impact on me than what the music world thinks. It’s what the people think.”
Stanley’s populism needs little defense. The 57-year-old artist’s brightly colored oil paintings, simply constructed and heavily textured with brushes, fingers and the palette knife, are automatically collectable ($3 million in sales last year) because an international rock star painted them.
And this particular international rock star, a New York City original born to Jewish immigrant parents, may have learned part of his mantra concerning other people’s opinions on Staten Island.
“I used to take the ferry — it was a cheap date, like taking a low-cost ocean cruise,” says the rock star, laughing. “I also had a girlfriend of sorts in Staten Island. Her mom was very nice to me, until one day I wasn’t allowed in the house. I found out it was because she hadn’t known I was Jewish — she thought I was Italian.”
Decades later, the KISS co-founder still has his moments of insecurity. He was too self-conscious to sign the first painting he produced, a moody spherical piece called “Green Planet.” But friends visiting his family room — where the painting still hangs — started asking questions, and eventually a hobby that Stanley says he picked up eight years ago for purely cathartic reasons became more public.
“I was afraid that if people knew I did it they would fluff it off, so to speak,” he says. “At some point, someone talked me into doing a show and it really took off. I think I’ve done 24 shows in the last 18 months or so. Between the serious collectors and the curiosity seekers, it’s been very rewarding for me.”
Count KISS singer Gene Simmons, who got his teaching degree locally from Richmond College (which later became part of the College of Staten Island), in at least one of those groups: He owns a Stanley portrait of the Statue of Liberty. Like his “Mona Lisa,” a re-interpretation of the Da Vinci classic, the subject was planned while the process wasn’t. The guitarist says he’s also been commissioned to paint current portraits, though he won’t provide any names. Whoever they are, they probably enjoy bold colors — like his music, Stanley’s work on the canvas is pretty loud.
“Corny as it may seem, I see life every day as a miracle,” says the novice, who says his style is always changing (he’ll show some new bronze works this weekend). “Even at its worst. I’ve seen people depict depression with grays. I depict depression with vivid colors. Everything in life is vivid to me, so that’s the one constant.”
Stanley likens his process to going on a trip without a map. The painting becomes an abstract reflection of the painter’s mood at any given time. He admits his approach is sort of “fly by the seat of my pants.” And works like his “Peace” and “Heart” series won’t impress the critics any more than KISS’ albums in the late ’80s (“Asylum,” anyone?). But other stuff, like impressionistic landscape “Land of Samurai” and “Astral Autumn,” could be well received in the snobby art world Stanley scoffs at, and might even point to one of his influences.
“I think Van Gogh. Not to be presumptuous, but he said something terrific in one of his letters to his brother,” says Stanley. “He said, ‘I no longer want to be the painter, I want to be the paint.’ And I think that’s probably something that many artists can relate to. You want to be a part of the canvas, as opposed to the person creating it.”
Coming from a guy who got famous painting his face, that makes a lot of sense.