You can't get much more rock 'n' roll than the Rolling Stones...and you can't be more rock 'n' roll than Ronnie Wood, with his former lifestyle of drink, drugs, sex and out-and-out hedonism. But I recently stumbled across a gallery just off London's Oxford Street, exhibiting some of Ronnie's art a serious hobby which he's had for the past 35 years. We're not just talking about a hobbyist, though; Ronnie Wood can really, really draw. When I stepped through the door and saw his work for the first time, I was amazed.
Coming from a tremendously musical and artistic family, Ronnie's early influences came from his father (who played in a 24-piece jazz band) and his brother (who was in a skiffle band). But although he first trod the boards at the tender age of nine, his early career aspirations actually took him more towards art than towards music studying formally at the Ealing College of Art.
Naturally, given his passion for music, it is perhaps inevitable that a lot of Ronnie's work is based around painting the portraits not only of the Rolling Stones but of fellow musicians who have had a profound influence on him although this is not the total extent of his artistic repertoire. But the images I've selected here are those I found to be the most powerful, intense and dramatic. When the subject is looking directly outwards, there is a piercing truth about the expressions, as if his friends are giving Ronnie a sudden yet intimate look.
It's easy to see why Ronnie has had solo exhibitions the world over, from Tokyo to New York, and can count Bill Clinton among his list of purchasers. Yes, of course his name alone adds some weight, but there is clearly an innate talent which, coupled with the honesty and showmanship of his work, makes his art very engaging. The boldness of his artistic expression is perhaps linked to the boldness of the Rolling Stones' image on some level, although one art form is quite private, solitary and personal and the other is all about exhibitionism. 'People don't know that I'm an artist,' Ronnie told NME magazine. 'Playing music as part of a team effort is wonderful, but to express individuality as an artist is very personal. Art is more powerful, a more personal statement."
Interestingly, it is to another artist that Ronnie feels he owes an enormous debt of gratitude for reigniting his passion in art, having blown a fortune and lost his way with drink and drugs the staples of that generation's rock 'n' roll existence. His friend Damien Hirst apparently 'kidnapped' him in 2004 and sent him on a private plane to rehab. Hirst then bought Ronnie everything he needed to kit him out with a new art workshop. 'Now you've got no excuse', said Hirst.
Ronnie the artist seems very different to Ronnie the musician on so many levels. When he's painting, his composer of choice is Mozart. His greatest artistic influences? Der, Rembrandt, Goya and Velazquez. And the serious art world seems to embrace him, too. Sir Peter Blake of the Royal Academy certainly feels that he should be given credit for being able to draw and paint with great skill. Indeed, art historian Edward Lucie-Smith considers Ronnie's portrait of Eric Clapton to be worthy of a place in the National Portrait Gallery.
There is a crossover between art and music, of course. 'I apply musical theory to my art,' confirms Ronnie. 'I build limited edition silk screen prints in much the same way as studio overdubs; the more defined ones are things that stand out in the mix.'
For me, many of the portraits I've selected stand out as masterful. Whenever he next exhibits in London, I'll certainly be paying the gallery a visit.
by Ashley Morrison
Ashley is a blogger, copywriter and editor
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