Boston Herald article - February 9, 2003

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Rockers take center stage for new exhibit at Zeitgeist

When rock musicians exhibit their art, the art world doesn't always pay attention. Sometimes that's for good reasons - Grace Slick among them.

But the popular appeal of rockers' art is powerful. If you're a fan of the music, you're a fan of the psyche it from which it came. To see how artists express emotions and ideas in two different forms is to understand something beyond the song, beyond the painting, about who they are and how they see the world. And if you're not already a fan of the music, it might sound different to you after you've seen the art.

"Between Rock and an Art Place," opening at the Zeitgeist Gallery in Cambridge on Wednesday, offers a look at more than 20 Boston rock musicians from another angle. The show includes Roger Miller, Willie Alexander, Peter Wolf, Jonathan Richman, Dana Colley, Mikey Welsh, Reeves Gabrels and Cynthia von Buhler - a musically diverse group of people who might have nothing in common but the fact that they do both art and music. Most are better at one form than the other; some are strikingly adept at both.

But how good or bad the art is, by whatever definition, isn't really the point of the show.

"For me, what's interesting is what the energy is like, how it translates from one medium to another," said Zeitgeist director Alan Nidle, who did a similar show a few years ago in Zeitgeist's old space.

The artwork, he added, might also offer clues about the musical life of the artist. "In the last show, for example, Peter Wolf did a drawing of a tiny figure onstage, surrounded by a huge crowd. I thought that said something interesting about how he sees himself."

Nidle was approached to do another rocker art show by journalist and musician Ted Drozdowski. After publishing an article in Boston magazine about Welsh, the former Weezer bassist, and other musicians who pursue visual art, Drozdowski got the magazine to co-sponsor an exhibit and teamed up with Nidle and Boston rocker Asa Brebner (Modern Lovers, Chartbusters, Family Jewels) to curate the show.

"Basically, we just thought about who's doing art (in the rock scene), and asked them for pieces," Nidle said.

Not every rocker/artist in town is represented - the crossover between art school and rock school is well-traveled. But the show is inclusive enough to offer a comprehensive sense of the creative process as it jumps forms, and maybe shed some light on that big theory of culture that Brian Eno goes on about.

Brebner and Wayne Viens (Crown Electric Company), who share a studio space in Zeitgeist's basement and an appreciation for unfettered musical energy, will be showing funky, outsider sculpture that incorporates found objects from junk shops and yard sales—cultural debris fused together, punk-rock style, for raw impact. Jonathan Richman's paintings, said Brebner, share a certain wistful quality with his music—the art "looks just like him."

For Welsh, who immersed himself in painting after ending a strained relationship with Weezer, followed by a nervous breakdown, the most important thing about art "is being able to exorcise my demons." If Welsh has yet to leave his influences behind (Basquiat made a big impression, among others) and hit his ultimate, original mark as a visual artist, his skills as a painter, and his palpable emotional connection to the work, are impressive. These took a lot of people by surprise when they saw his recent show at the Paradise.

But if Welsh has the stuff to make him famous as an artist, he's not sure he wants it - having your picture on lunch boxes and being stalked by 15-year-old girls was weird enough. The illusion of art success, he said, is appealing, but the reality might be as disappointing as rock stardom, especially if the business of doing it eclipses the act. What he loves is the wild catharsis of the work, the Pollock-like mad energy.

"I could never do figurative art, literal representations of trees and things. I have to get paint everywhere," Welsh said. "I feel really good with paint in my hair and all over my hands, a cigarette hanging out of my mouth. I have to feel insane. For me that's the point of doing it. It's like sex, when you're completely out of your mind. Like an animal, a mess."

What would his art sound like? Welsh said, with a laugh, "Probably it would be a lot like Syd Barrett."