As Keith Richards once said, ‘a lot of good musicians came out of art school, but not many good artists.’ Lennon, Syd Barrett, Kim Gordon, Marc Bolan, David Byrne… the list of ex-art students who decided to turn their hands to music instead is a long one. It’s therefore not too surprising that they continue finding musical inspiration in modern and postmodern art. Dylan paints. Beefheart and Bowie did too. Bryan Ferry wrote “Virginia Plain” inspired by one of the paintings he’d done as a student.
The subversive figure of the artist-genius clearly inspires many musicians. What more impressive rock star could there be than Pablo Picasso, whose striped jumper is as iconic as the Ramones’ biker jackets? The painter also had his groupies, many of whom hung about outside his studio doors. As Jonathan Richman sang, ‘well some people try to pick up girls and get called assholes. This never happened to Pablo Picasso.’ Fascinated by his aura, the greatest musicians have paid him tribute: Miles Davis, Michel Portal, Stravinsky, Piazzolla...The same goes for Salvador Dali whose spidery moustache is as legendary as Freddy Mercury’s. Jonathan Richman (again) remembers being guided in his dreams by his paintings, while Snakefinger tried to free himself from Dali’s nightmarish surrealist universe.
The no less famous Andy Warhol conceived of the flies on the cover of The Stone’s album Sticky Fingers as well as the embossed banana for Velvet Underground. Rather like Marcel Duchamp’s aloof persona, the postmodern dandy character embodied by Warhol has had a considerable impact on many musicians. Jackson Pollock, who covered his canvases with dripping paint, represented a creative freedom that naturally resonated with the harmonic freedom advocated by Ornette Coleman. Post-impressionist painter Henri Rousseau also deserves a mention, a painter who depicted exotic and fantastical landscapes. Compagnie Créole sang about him and French singer Philippe Katerine covers the song in a rather skewed rock style.