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It’s not every day that you get to mingle with half a dozen world famous rock stars. And it’s a very rare occasion indeed when the reason those rock stars have Come Together is to open an exhibition of their artwork at a gallery in Beverly Hills normally reserved for the 20th century Masters.
In fact, the Andrew Weiss gallery displays more pieces by Picasso, Dali and Chagall than most museums, which seemed to leave even these world-renowned rockers a little star-struck - several of them describing how humbled and honored they were to have their pieces displayed alongside such icons. As Page Hamilton of Helmet put it, “It’s like sharing the stage with Beethoven or Mozart.”
Four years in the making, the Come Together exhibition is the result of collaborations between SceneFour art house, and more than a dozen of the most incredible musicians on the planet, including The RZA of Wu-Tang Clan, Chuck D of Public Enemy, Bootsy Collins and Franky Waddy of Parliament Funkadelic, Shavo Odadjian of System of a Down, Matt Sorum of Velvet Revolver, Stephen Perkins of Jane’s Addiction, Angelo Moore of Fishbone, Rick Allen of Def Leppard, DJ QBert, Page Hamilton, and George Lynch of Dokken.
The centerpiece of the show may be familiar in more ways than one. Not only did “Victory Or Death,” the collaboration between SceneFour, The RZA and WAIL (When Art Imitates Life) debut last year to much acclaim, being named “The Greatest Panting of 2010” by the Village Voice, but the painting on which it is based, Emmanuel Leutze’s “Washington Crossing the Delaware,” is nothing short of a national treasure, and almost definitely appeared in your grade school history books more than once.
In addition to The RZA, GZA and ODB are depicted along with the Shaolin temple, and a great many other elements that carry personal significance to the artist, which are hidden within the artwork. Each of this series of artist portraits is similar in this manner, sending fans that purchase the limited-edition prints on a treasure hunt through the artists’ past. For The RZA, it is about his spiritual journey, and how the Wu-Tang Clan created a hip-hop revolution.
In fact, the spiritual journey is evident in many of the pieces, from Shavo, who is depicted as a half fallen angel with good and evil versions of himself whispering in his ear, to Page, whose infant self is looking at his own skeleton in the moon (something I definitely would have missed if Page had not pointed it out to me), to Bootsy Collins, who appears to be ascending into the heavens, to DJ QBert, whose piece has a decidedly Hindu theme, to Angelo Moore, who sampled an even more famous painting than “Washington Crossing the Delaware” with “The Last Upper.”
The most powerful message however may come from Chuck D, whose piece “By the Time I Got to Arizona” makes a definite statement about racial profiling and the immigration debate. In it, a customs agent holds up a color strip with different tones that range from dark to light, like you would find in a paint store, except here it’s being used to determine whether or not he’s a criminal, and whether or not he should be deported. There is also a child being led away in handcuffs followed by a white woman carrying a bible, and perhaps most disturbingly, a sign that reads “Achtung, Show Me Your Papers,” drawing a parallel between the Arizona law, and Nazi policies during World War II.
Based on a song of the same name released by Public Enemy back in ’91 as a direct response to the refusal of Arizona and New Hampshire to recognize Martin Luther King Day, Chuck D has a long history of speaking out against injustice. When I asked him how he thought America’s drug policies were affecting the situation in Arizona and the immigration debate, it spurred a long conversation. “When it comes to solving these problems,” Chuck said, “governments are usually more of an obstacle than not. Art and culture are what bring people together. And that’s what I do. That’s what we need more of.” Indeed, “By The Time I Got To Arizona” really humanizes the issue, and if it helps make even a few people a little less prejudiced, well then that is a success.
Speaking of success, listening to Shavo explain the meaning behind his piece, how it is a representation of not only his, but our collective past, present and future, I had to ask him what message he would send to aspiring musicians, or artists of any kind. “It’s always easier to say ‘I don’t give a fuck’ than it is to stand up and make a difference,” he said. “You gotta have the balls to put yourself out there and just be you, and do what you do. And when you’re on the wave, ride it as long as you can.”
Even though many of these guys had never ventured into the world of fine art before, the transition seemed quite natural. As musicians, they are used to collaborating, and as artists, they are constantly looking to explore new territory. As The RZA said, “An artist is a spirit, and that spirit can take on any form once you realize that you are that artist.” SceneFour partner Cory Danziger expressed a similar sentiment: “The musicians we’re working with are the most talented on the planet, and that talent stretches beyond music.”
When SceneFour approached gallery owner Andrew Weiss for the exhibition, he jumped at the chance, saying “It’s very rare that you see something new and different and important. You have musicians expanding into visual arts, which is a crossover of two worlds, and you have artists, designers and printers all involved in the creation of the art. This is beyond an artist; this is a movement, and I think we’ll be seeing a lot more of these sorts of collaborative efforts.”
The movement toward collaborative efforts that merge artistic mediums is perhaps best evidenced in “The Art of Drums,” SceneFour’s first foray into abstract art, and was really a show within a show, because unlike the portraits, these pieces aren’t about the musicians, but about the motion and the music. Utilizing a variety of photographic techniques and special drumsticks equipped with lights to capture the drumming of Matt Sorum, Stephen Perkins, Frankie Waddy and Rick Allen, the collaborators at SceneFour then take the images and transform them into a beautifully colorized representation of the music that if you smoke enough weed, you might even be able to hear.
If you would like to more from the collection, or own a piece by one of these world famous musicians, visit www.scenefour.com. All pieces are limited edition giclee on canvas, signed and numbered, with portraits containing the musicians’ handprints. Many of the musicians even personalize the pieces by adding messages or song lyrics.
Mike Gentilucci is the managing editor at SlurveMag.com, the arts and culture review that masquerades as a baseball publication.