The Boston Tab article - November 4, 2002

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The visual side of two musical minds: Weezer bassist in painter's Paradise

By Alexander Stevens/Staff Writer

Monday, November 4, 2002

Mikey Welsh is only 31, but he may be enduring a mid-life crisis. Who could blame him? Welsh, originally from Brookline, achieved rock star status as the bass player for Weezer. Their 1994 debut album landed on the Billboard chart at number four. Within days, Weezer played on "Saturday Night Live," and the jets, parties, movie stars and models followed, along with the requisite "Behind the Music" tensions in the band.

But there was nothing funny about the consequences - Welsh's close friendship with Weezer frontman Rivers Cuomo eroded into a clash of egos, money and band politics. The result has been a messy, yearlong legal battle, and Welsh - his friendship with Cuomo long gone - has returned home to heal.

"It's been like this gaping wound with [Cuomo], pouring salt in it for a long time,"says Welsh, who now lives in Cambridge. "It's been a very difficult year for me. It's been traumatic in a lot of ways."

These days, he's finding solace and inspiration in his art. Fate may decide that Welsh will always be best remembered as the Weezer bassist, but he's far more passionate now about his painting. The folks over at the Paradise in Boston are pretty excited, too. The enduring rock club this week launched its new art gallery with an exhibit of about 50 of Welsh's paintings.

With songwriting "you have to coordinate things with other people, especially when you get to an enormous level like Weezer. It's a very serious dynamic. People have to be able to put their egos aside and listen to other people," says Welsh. "So painting is incredibly liberating, because it's just me, working in my house. I work all morning, all day and all night. Sometimes, I wake up in the middle of the night and start painting. It's an incredibly direct way to express myself."

And "express" is the right word, as in expressionist. These are bold and biting works of art - acrylics, oils and mixed media. There's a shock value that one might expect from a rock musician - some of the images are sexual, some are violent. Stylistically, it's not surprising that he prizes the work of Robert Rauschenberg and Jackson Pollock. Some observers have noticed a cubist, or Picasso influence in his work.

But what's the story with the words and numbers that appear on many of his canvasses?

"Sometimes I just like the way words look, regardless of what they mean," says Welsh. "Sometimes I use words to make a point, sometimes I use them for confusion, and sometimes just because they look nice. That's an influence from some of my favorite songwriters, who use words because of the way they sound. I like things that are open for interpretation. You let people's minds do the work for them. I can't stand obvious things."

That sentiment is reflected in the title of the show - "Infections." At first, Welsh just liked the sound of it, but then he also realized it had connections to the work.

"It applies to how I feel about painting," he says. "I'm incredibly inspired, but it's almost like this disease to paint. "And the word, like some of his graphic images, is "kind of disturbing."

It's not exactly the kind of painting that his mother, who's a classically trained artist, might produce. But no one who knew Welsh as a Brookline boy would be too surprised at the way he's turned out. He grew up in a household that prized art and music, and it's little wonder that they have remained two of the big influences in his life.

But music is only playing in the background of Welsh's life these days. It would be understandable if that were one of the repercussions of his fallout with Weezer. But he's just about to sign a settlement with the band, which should bring him some of his hard-earned monetary success, and more importantly, some peace of mind.

Asked if there's both music and art in his future, Welsh pauses, and then says, "Pretty much just art. I'm taking a break from music. I really feel the need to reinvent myself and move on, and I couldn't be happier painting. Music is still an important part of my life, but I really have no desire to actually play it."