A lot of musicians turn to be brilliant visual artists, and for Echo and the Bunnymen’s Will Sergeant, it seems to be a natural phenomenon, in complete continuity with the music he composes. As I entered the Substrate Fine Art Gallery in Los Angeles, which is hosting his first major exhibition in the US, I read the large panel explaining his artistic story and intention. At the bottom of it, you could read this:
‘I now paint as much as I write or record music and my mind is swimming with images and ideas. I paint using the same creative and improvisational processes that I use to write music. I create and record sound in the same ways that I layer paint or collage images. I have been born again.’
If you needed a correspondence with both arts, you have it! ‘My Own Worst Enemy’, the title of the exhibit, a collection of many different mediums from abstract paintings to screen prints and collages, had attracted a large crowd in the small gallery on Friday night.
‘My love of the music was equaled by my love of the artwork’, wrote Will Sergeant, explaining that a lot of the bands he was drawn to, were into visual art too: ‘I knew nothing about it at the time but the bands that spoke to my imagination were to lead me to an artistic life. Music was my escape. I was always drawn to the slightly ‘out there’ freaky bands. I realize now they were coming to get me. The Pink Floyd, Tangerine Dream, Kraftwerk, The Who, The Pink Fairies, Roxy Music, David Bowie, Brian Eno, The Velvet Underground – all were artists as well as musicians, or heavily associated with the arts.’
And they really get him, as his series of abstractions was quite interesting, with lots of layers of colors, paralleling layers of tracts in musical compositions, with the most intriguing names: the yellow one was entitled ‘I'll be riding your slipstream’, another brown and black one, ‘Lifestyles of the rich and famous’, a red one, ‘Warning delight’, another brown one, ‘The book of pleasures’, and a blue one had the title song, ‘My own worst enemy’. There also were some striking pieces, a sort of red star called ‘Dream on’, multicolor squares covered by polyester tentacles called ‘Trying to master unseen forces’ and especially these center piece with two rows of knives called ‘The vanity of plumage’… there also were a few moths, a series of Warhol-style Venice beach, a sort of green cross/star, entitled ‘Century fallen’.
There was a lot of light in the paintings, and a lot of darkness at the same time (the moths, the knives), but Will said in a press release that ‘all of the works mean something to me and have a story behind them’, and that ‘some of them are tied to events that have taken place on tour or by situations I have found myself in.’ I hope the 30-knives-story was not too horrific.
I am sure I was surrounded by a lot of musicians, I said hello to Goldenboy's Shon Sullivan, and wasn’t The Dandy Warhols' guitarist Peter Holmström also there? Rodney Bingenheimer, the famous KROQ disc jockey, who has known all the rock stars of the planet and has introduced so many bands to the American public, was talking to Will Sergeant when I arrived.
But how did Will Sergeant decide he could be an artist? The punk movement seems to be the triggering factor:
‘The punk bands I was drawn to including X-Ray Spex, Talking Heads, Pere Ubu, Devo, Wire and the Residents – also had links to art. In the case of the Residents, I saw them more as an art movement than just a band. Punk instilled in me the ‘yes you can do it’ attitude.’
‘My Own Worst Enemy” will be on display at the Substrate Fine Art Gallery from May 18 through June 16.