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Art Professor Critiques Paintings by The Biggest Rockstars

Updated: Apr 26, 2016 10:20
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We’ve looked at paintings by Presidents and Dictators, the ‘high art’ of Hollywood’s Biggest Actors, and now we examine the Rock Gods.  Many of the world’s biggest musicians also tried their hand at fine art.  I showed some of their work to San Francisco Art Institute Professor and Int. art critic Mark Van Proyen (MVP) and we explored the relationship between music, art, and celebrity.   Let’s look at the paintings done by some of the world’s most cherished musicians:  Bono, Paul Mcartney, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan and David Bowie.  In 2003, the lead singer to arguably the biggest band in the world put out a series of mixed media paintings to sell for charity: 

Bono (U2)
“Study of ‘Pussy’ The Cat” (2003)

bono 2

MVP: “This is obviously a kind of pornographic musing on the feline form, a pun…this is not the kind of thing that’s going to warm the hearts of feminist critics, but in reality it’s too childish to really be misogynistic…I’m sure he’s raising money for a good causes.”

bono 3

 “I kind of hate to admit it but I kind of like this thing. The style clearly looks derived from Jean-Michel Basquiat, the saw tooth representation of the mouth with the tongue sticking out is funny, and I think the handling of the brush to describe the outer shape of the wolfs head is pretty good…some artistic skill and with a sense of humor…it looks like something made in order to impress his 14 year old daughter…if he even has a teenage daughter”.

It turns out that at the time of these paintings Bono actually had two teenage daughters.  Photos courtesy of the band’s website:


Paul McCartney
“Elivs Me” (1989)

This is one of several paintings from a series called ‘Faces’ by the former Beatles front man.  The rocker paints himself in the image of Elvis, but a piece of Elvis seems to also be included in the painting.  I asked Professor MVP to weigh in.

image (7)


 “It strikes me as having a fairly blatant homosexual subtext…it seems Elvis is positioned in the upper right of the composition.”

An ‘homage’ to ‘the King of rock n roll’ I guess.  Paul is having a little fun…Moving on I asked MVP how the fame of being a ‘Rock Star’ could affect one’s art and Kanye West comes up, a great example of a musician’s fame run amok:

“Rock star fame is a particular kind of fame–at least actors know that they are pretending to be other people who operate in fantasy-fulfillment narratives. Rock stars are also in the fantasy fulfillment business, but they seem to not realize that they too are pretending to be people who are other then them selves–even if the music is in some way authentic. It is easy for them to see themselves as objects of worship, and the paintings that they make are intended to be proxies for that worship, rather than contributions to the history of painting. There is a little bit of Kanye West in everybody, but too much in a great many rock stars, and way too much in Kanye himself, proud as he is about disliking books.”  Kayne’s famous quote about books:

“I am a proud non-reader of books. I like to get information from doing stuff like actually talking to people and living real life.” – Kanye West


Joni Mitchell

Bellow is Joni singing her famous “Big Yellow Taxi” song in 1970.  Most agree that as a musician Joni Mitchell is delightful.  But she has a long history of painting as well.


Joni Mitchell
“Early Figurative” (1969)

image (2)


“I like these, the times were what they were…’tripping on patterns’.  She didn’t over do it, it’s a really good illustration of when you quit a painting before you overdo it,  students should look at it for that reason.  the juxtaposition of finished areas and un-finished areas is very successful.”

Joni Mitchell
‘Self Portrait’ (1997)

“This is dreadful…when you’re painting from a photograph you have to understand that you are painting ‘from’ a photograph not ‘toward’ a photograph. The sky is more interesting than the figure, it makes me think of the watercolors she did in the late 70’s, that were sweet, elegant and unpretentious at the same time. “



“The way the eyes are painted, it’s like she’s astigmatic, they are looking in different directions. The jaw and pursed lips are proportionally too large for the face, making her look like a well barbered ape.”


Bob Dylan

I show MVP an article by the Guardian (UK) about Bob Dylan’s art, it reads: “Bob Dylan is not only the Keats of rock’n’roll but the Lucian Freud as well”.  MVP Shakes his head and says, “Who writes this shit? Isn’t there a shame department for internet writing?” Dylan did a good amount of painting over the years, here is what the Professor had to say about it.



“The outstretched hand is a very effective part of the painting.  It’s much more developed than the other hands…this is another case of someone trying to show that not learning how to paint is some kind of virtuous state of authenticity, and I think it might be better if he just learned how to paint.”

Boby Dylan
The ‘Drawn Blank’ Series (2014)

The 'Drawn Blank Series 2014. Photo:

“This looks like a 3rd place entry in a Jr. college greeting card contest.”


Marilyn Manson
“Experience is the Mistress of Fools” 2004



“I think it’s pretty good. The question is ‘does it fall to the dark too quickly, but given the nature of the face and adornments you get a pass on that…one eye looks like a snake eye, the other doesn’t exist, the forms of the horns and shoulders echo each other…the crucifixes.”

“Marilyn Manson is a sanitized version of an SF band from the late 1970’s called ‘Chrome’.  When we were art students we’d  go see them play at Mabuhay Gardens (on Broadway St. in SF)… they were like extraterrestrial, amphetamine vampires…like Clockwork Orange characters that were put on a chemical diet.”

David Bowie
“Child in Berlin” (1977)

Bowie is a musical icon, actor, and also a painter.  He has paintings from several different decades.

'Child in Berlin' 1977. Photo:

‘Child in Berlin’ 1977. Photo:

David Bowie
“Evol for the Missing” (1996)

Evol for the Missing (1996). Photo:

Evol for the Missing (1996). Photo:

“From an art historian point of view, a lot of his work looks like Die Brücke expressionism, or it looks like a pop artist trying to imitate German expressionism”

At one point MVP mentioned that ‘art has become the relic of celebrity’. I asked him to expand on this, we also talked about the subject matter of these interviews:

“I have taken some Facebook crap for doing these interviews, as was to be expected. The reason was that it seemed that I was legitimizing celebrity pseudo art, just by paying attention to it. Maybe that is true, but whatever one might say about celebrity art, certainly it does not need any support coming to me, just as it is impervious to any criticism I might make of it, because as empty as it is, celebrity is its own self-fulfilling prophesy.  I would like to think that relics are one thing, and embodiments are something else, but today’s art world is blind to that distinction. It seems to me that when art becomes a path to “celebrity,” then only celebrities will make art. This is the logical follow-through from a point when the art world became fixated on the question of “who gets to be an artist,” at the expense of another question that is almost never asked, “what constitutes a successful work of art.” It terrifies me to think that celebrity art is what the art of our time will be known for, but so far, that is where the situation stands. If we do another one of these interviews, we should look at the art of porn stars and circus clowns, they being the real avatars of the way that our society models idea subjectivity.”

Next time:

I looked for art specifically by circus clowns, but Google hasn’t properly cataloged that genre, I searched for paintings by pornstars and got side-tracked.  But there are plenty of interesting genres to explore.  We at highlight artists all the time.  One of our NYC editors Freddie Cosmo highlights NYC artists weekly, and here in SF we are going to start highlighting local creators of fine art regularly.  Next time with MVP, we’ll look at the artwork of Serial Killers.  Have a suggestion?  Email me at


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Alex Mak - Managing Editor

Alex Mak - Managing Editor

I'm the managing editor here at Broke-Ass Stuart. I enjoy covering Bay Area News as well as writing about Arts, Culture & Nightlife.

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