Aside from The Beatles, The Rolling Stones were pretty much the most tedious British Invasion band of the 1960s. Both these acts lacked the mod flash and live excitement of the way superior Who, Small Faces and Creation; not to mention the raw primitive energy that enabled the likes of The Troggs, The Pretty Things and The Downliners Sect to completely outclass bigger rock and pop names. While Mick Jagger’s staid middle-class mannerisms and absurd attempts at imitating Tina Turner’s high sixties dance moves meant that his glossed lips were forever begging for a mod fist to bust them open, Rolling Stones bass player Bill Wyman proved himself to be the biggest tosser in the group by dating 13 year-old school girl Mandy Smith in the 1980s.
While Whyman’s affair and subsequent marriage to Smith generated a lot of media coverage, he somehow managed to avoid the kind of excoriation heaped upon other kiddie fiddling scumbag pop paedophiles such as Gary Glitter or Jonathan King. That doesn’t necessarily make Wyman better than Glitter or King – he was just lucky to have been operating from the more powerful position of belonging to one of the very biggest acts in the entertainment business.
Throughout October and November 2011 there has been an exhibition of Whyman’s photographs entitled Second Nature at Rove in London’s Hoxton Square. Like most celebrity exhibitions the show sucks. The selection and presentation of work is incoherent – a mix of music related shots and nature photographs; with stuff such as a portrait of Marc and Bella Chagall thrown in for no good reason (this is the only portrait of a painter). Wyman is a mediocre photographer and there is little of interest in his nature pictures. For those in thrall to celebrity, his snaps of his fellow Rolling Stones and those around them (Jerry Hall, John Lennon) may hold some interest although overall they are nothing special. Constant privileged access means that there are a couple of lucky shots – but even those pictures showing the Stones looking completely threadbare and worthless (such as a scrawny and bare chested Keith Richard pathetically holding up his fists) pale in comparison to the way the Maysles brothers film Gimmie Shelter explodes Jagger and Company’s empty posturing.
Looking at Second Nature I couldn’t help but feeling I’d seen exactly the same kind of celebrity junk art many times before. Then I remembered I’d not only seen it all before, I’d also written about it for The Big Issue back in the 1990s. What goes around comes around, so rather than saying any more about Wyman – who is a typical Tory supporting rich toe-rag – I can just reproduce what I wrote about celebrity art 14 years ago…. it remains as valid today as it was then!
But first a quick comment on the celebrity art claims made by a pair of academic clowns – Dr John Schofield and Dr Paul Graves-Brown – as reported by the BBC yesterday. The Beeb quotes these ejits as saying: “The tabloid press once claimed that early Beatles recordings discovered at the BBC were the most important archaeological find since Tutankhamun’s tomb. The Sex Pistols’ graffiti in Denmark Street surely ranks alongside this and – to our minds – usurps it.” The Beatles and The Sex Pistols both contributed massively to ruining rock and roll – the success of these fifth rate acts led many others to imitate everything that was bad about them.
Schofield and Graves-Brown are reported as dating all the Sex Pistols graffiti from 1975. If this is in fact the case it illustrates nicely why they are archetypal academic idiots: one piece of graffiti features Nancy Spungen and it wouldn’t take much research to discover Johnny Rotten (who allegedly did the cartoons) wouldn’t have known what she looked like until she arrived in London in 1977. Thus this part of the ‘art’ either dates from at least a couple of years after 1975, or else it isn’t by Rotten. Of course, it also remains possible that none of the graffiti is by Rotten and it is not anything like 36 years old. Judged on what the Beeb report Schofield and Graves-Brown as saying, it would take someone with considerably greater historical and archaeological skills than they possess (zero basically) to determine the provenance of this work.
And after that detour here’s my old article about celebrities and art.
THE ANTIQUES ROADSHOW
Throughout the swinging sixties a good many young people imagined that they belonged to the first generation that could do anything, which mostly meant being a bohemian. Although no longer far out and fabulous, sixties has-beens still cling to the belief that it is possible to do one thing today, and another tomorrow. The sheer number of once beautiful people who’ve waddled onto the gallery circuit in recent years is proof of a tenacious, if largely misplaced, belief in their own creative capacities.
Thirty years ago, self-important groovy people like David Bowie and the recently dead Allen Ginsberg were inspired to mix different art forms by the burgeoning ‘happenings’ movement. More recently, mixed-media experimentation has given way to self-indulgence, with sixties stars attempting to revitalise their celebrity status through exhibitions of paintings. Most pop icons who’ve made credible art works did so at the height of their fame, through a marriage of music, theatre and painting. Attempts by former members of the glitterati to reinvent themselves as artists are rarely successful.
Sixties movie icon David Hemmings shot to fame when he starred in the Antonioni film Blow Up. This portrait of swinging London included a scene where a game of tennis was played without a ball. Eclectic Similarities by Hemmings, a solo art show which opens this week at London’s Osborne Studio Gallery, promises to be considerably more pedestrian. Working in the highly traditional mediums of pen, pencil and water-colour, the faded luvvie now finds artistic inspiration in what Pimm’s swilling toffs still call ‘the season’. Occasionally broadening his horizons beyond Henley, Lord’s, Ascot and Goodwood, Hemmings has also knocked out some London townscapes and a series of pictures on the theme of magic. However, it’s with the storyboards from his film and tv production credits, including The A Team, that he finally manages to scrape the bottom of his threadbare barrel. Don’t expect any surprises, Hemmings doesn’t have it in him to fling a pot of paint in the public’s face.
Infinitely superior to Eclectic Similarities is Brian Eno’s current show Music For White Cube, running at London’s White Cube gallery until 31 May. Eno being Eno, it comes as no surprise that there is nothing to see in this exhibition. Instead, there is a room of randomly generated ‘ambient’ music, something the former Roxy Music star pioneered in the late-sixties. In the words of White Cube, ‘the installation consists of four CD stations each playing a specially cut CD containing between eight and sixteen tracks. The CD players are set to ‘shuffle’ mode, thereby selecting tracks at random, to produce a landscape of sound that continually remakes itself.”
Don’t be put off by the po-faced promotion, the work is a lot more interesting than the press release implies. After all, Eno has a great sense of fun. He is rightly notorious for having relieved himself in the dadaist ready-made Fountain – an ordinary urinal that artist Marcel Duchamp signed R. Mutt and then submitted for exhibition.
Considerably less successful are the paintings and sculpture of Eno’s fellow glam rocker David Bowie. Some of these were shown a couple of years ago under the title New Afro/Pagan and Work 1975-1995 at Chertavia Fine Art in London. Bowie’s pictures were a mixture of expressionistic squibs and fantasy figures set against an underlay of Laura Ashley wallcoverings. With his usual aplomb, Bowie admitted in the accompanying brochure ‘in neither music nor art have I a real style, craft or technique. I just plummet through on either a wave of euphoria or mind-splintering dejection.’
Beyond the obvious financial rewards, one is left wondering why Bowie bothers himself with creative matters. The same might be said of actor Tony Curtis, who is currently showing his sub-Cubist paintings in Cannes. The Berlin based art curator Berthold Golomstock is currently putting together an exhibition of social realist style paintings by original Stones guitarist Brian Jones, to be toured internationally in 1999.
Art exhibitions by long forgotten sixties stars are likely to become an increasingly common feature of the cultural landscape. Former teen icons suffering from middle-aged spread find painting landscapes on a Sunday afternoon a considerably less demanding pursuit than making innovative music and films.
First published in The Big Issue #233, May 19-25 1997.
And while you’re at it don’t forget to check – www.stewarthomesociety.org – you know it makes (no) sense!
Comment by Jesse James on 2011-11-23 12:43:44 +0000
best review ever
Comment by Billy Rath on 2011-11-23 12:46:06 +0000
Comment by Billy Rath on 2011-11-23 12:46:25 +0000
Comment by Gavin on 2011-11-23 13:40:20 +0000
… but a group show of dabbling rock f88t wits would be great. Wyman, Dylan, Doherty, McCartney – god the list goes on and on. A festival of inanity.
Comment by Den B. on 2011-11-23 14:22:33 +0000
nice one Stewart – see also sycophantic coverage of Ron Wood’s ‘paintings’
Comment by Viki on 2011-11-23 15:09:26 +0000
There’s a ‘punk’ one coming up. It’s posted on my Facebook because my friend asked me to spread the word. And I really don’t think his paintings will be any good. He’s a good writer though.
Comment by Cathy W. on 2011-11-23 16:27:09 +0000
I still like the idea of Dylan scanning through peoples Flickr accounts for things to paint… then citing his memory as the inspiration for the work…
Comment by Steve Hyde on 2011-11-23 16:42:55 +0000
Hilarious. Makes you wonder how awful someone like Eddie Cochrane could have become had he lived.
Comment by CNN on 2011-11-23 17:07:09 +0000
Just as memoirs – regardless of who writes them – are big business, so exhibitions of holiday snaps and scribblings by ‘celebrities’ however minor are another easy and unimaginative way of milking the cash cow of fame… Now all the mediocre 90s indie bands that no-one gave a toss about at the time (and rightly so) have reformed to raptuous receptions, we can probably expect to see art spectaculars from the likes of Ian Brown and members of Shed 7 before the decade’s out.
Shoot me now.
Comment by Liam Gallagher on 2011-11-23 17:33:27 +0000
ere wots you fuckin problem? i no wot it is – youse are all just jealous coz peole like me are famoosand can get are stuff shown and that an you cant yer all fuckin pathetic. im gettin my own exibishun next year with me art and lyrics and shit cuz im famus an talented (unlike that tosser bro a mine, fuckin waster he is an all). book of lyrics poems an short stories an shit comin out christmas 2012 fuciin believe it yeah.
Comment by SH on 2011-11-23 20:56:57 +0000
The Stones were one of the first boy bands – but cast as an anti-Boy-Band by Oldham.
Comment by mistertrippy on 2011-11-23 21:03:17 +0000
Ditto The Sex Pistols…. And for Ronnie Wood it has been downhill ever since he left the British Birds…. And to damn with faint praise, those paintings of his are so bad they actually make The Stones look good by way of comparison!
Comment by Nick Papadimitriou on 2011-11-23 22:21:38 +0000
Do Beefheart and Joni Mitchell come under this category? Are there any rockstars who happen to be innovative in the visual arts (I probably mean easel painting)?
Comment by Simon on 2011-11-23 22:59:35 +0000
yes, that is one way to break into the Cork street circuit, first become a famous rock star and then produce art as a sideline (it won’t matter what it looks like, just make sure your signature is on it)
Comment by mistertrippy on 2011-11-23 23:10:08 +0000
Breaks one circuit but just flows into another…. unfortunate.about a minute ago · Like??
@ Nick Papadimitriou Joni Mitchell’s painting is really terrible – Beefheart’s slightly better but still not great. Can’t think of any rock stars whose painting I like. I did once see a very amusing piece by Andy Ellison of John’s Children/Radio Stars in the window of a Camden hairdresser… I’m not saying it was great, but I liked it coz it amused me…. But then AE kinda missed rock stardom…
Comment by Nick Papadimitriou on 2011-11-23 23:38:04 +0000
I was shocked at the standard of Wood’s work – an unemployed rock fan pal does better. Just another case of privilege feeding itself and emperor’s new clothes. Usually the same with rock stars who ‘act’ in film.
Comment by ASB on 2011-11-23 23:53:22 +0000
David Bowie – Paul McCartney – John Mellencamp – Iggy Pop – Chris Mars – Jon Langford – David Byrne – Marilyn Manson – Jerry Garcia – Bob Dylan – Mickey Dolenz – Robbie Krieger – Tony Bennett – Robert Smith – Jon Anderson – Jhn Lennon – Ringo Starr – Ron Wood – Eric Burden – John Entwistle – Ron Asheton – Janis Joplin – Grace Slick – the list of wanna be rock star artists goes on and one… dear god make it stop! Adventures in middlebrow.
Comment by Stuart Green on 2011-11-24 00:13:18 +0000
I wondered into Liberty’s a couple of years ago where Wood’s paintings were being exhibited in order to promote his fashion line. Hilariously, someone had thought it a good idea to use his expressionist daubs as prints for the clothes. I still like the Stones, The Beatles and The Pistols though.
Comment by Steve Davies on 2011-11-24 00:28:19 +0000
I saw some of Ronnie Wood’s and Bob Dylan’s paintings in a gallery at Cardiff Bay last week. Both men’s ‘art’ smelled like a dirty bottom. The exhibition of photographs of social life in 1970’s Bute Town just down the road was far better…
Comment by Billy Rath on 2011-11-24 12:45:19 +0000
We should congratulate the academics on this new discovery – which wasn’t covered already in a TV documentary featuring Cook, Jones and Matlock, dating back to at least 2008…http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=20DL6Sf_RD4
Comment by mistertrippy on 2011-11-25 00:19:24 +0000
Watching that I even remembered I’d seen it before! 1975! I don’t think so!
Comment by Michael Roth on 2011-11-27 05:35:27 +0000
How true! There’s nothing else to add.
Comment by mistertrippy on 2011-11-27 12:12:26 +0000
You can only say ‘sad academics’ so many times before it gets as boring as what they write…..
Comment by Stuart on 2011-11-28 22:34:14 +0000
Good article…but I hear the sound of special pleading for Eno.
Comment by mistertrippy on 2011-11-28 23:18:44 +0000
The article was written a long time ago and I guess if I was doing it now I’d be more critical of Eno…. but at least his work wasn’t bad painting or photography… His ambient stuff doesn’t do much for me now, and the non-ambient is even worse! What was I thinking?
Comment by Michael Roth on 2011-11-29 01:52:42 +0000
I guess many rock stars have so many people saying “yes” to them, they lose any critical perspective and think they can do anything. I did a quick search and was surprised how many rockers turned painters there are/were.
I don’t mind some of Beefheart’s work and am surprised that I liked some of Marilyn Manson’s watercolours. I can’t say their stuff is great but, while a bit derivative, are decent amateur efforts. Of course, it’s their “name”, not the quality of the work, that draws in the punters.
Comment by mistertrippy on 2011-11-29 11:33:51 +0000
Yeah, Beefheart is better than many other celebrities… but not fantastic to my eyes… Haven’t check out Marilyn Manson really, just seen the odd one online, but then I really don’t like Manson’s faux-rock!