The world is drowning in celebrity culture, says artist John Squire.
Squire knows about fame. Before turning to painting, he formed U.K. rock band the Stone Roses, whose debut album was voted by Observer critics in 2004 as the greatest of all time.
His latest exhibition is full of paintings named after well-known people, good, bad and ugly -- David Beckham, Woody Allen, Cheryl Cole, Albert Einstein, Phil Spector, Tracey Emin, Harold Shipman, Magda Goebbels.
They are far from the untutored portraits of Rolling Stone Ronnie Wood. Squire’s works are precisely drawn, complex patterns that seem to bear no relation to their titles.
“I tried deliberately not to represent these people,” says Squire, wearing a blue shirt and jeans, staring at an image titled “Richard Pryor” in London’s Idea Generation Gallery. “I made sure the composition stood on its own, and then found a name that seemed to fit.”
Squire, 48, is fascinated by the abstractions in Islamic art, which is rich in symbols such as eight-pointed stars and shuns depictions of Allah and Mohammed.
“Part of the reason these stars and geometric forms exist is to avoid representing the human form, to avoid idolatry,” he says. “So I twisted that and used it to represent the people that symbolize celebrity culture and are overrepresented.”
He is most pleased with a six-foot image titled “John F. Kennedy,” which was “particularly eye-watering and difficult.”
“I chose Kennedy as the first reality-TV star,” Squire says. “From the televised debates to the televised assassination and the funeral.”
Looking at his early splashed paintings on Stone Roses covers, Squire says “they are good record sleeves. They are homages to Jackson Pollock if you like: I wouldn’t try to pass them off as my own work.”
After his 2004 solo album, “Marshall’s House,” inspired by the painter Edward Hopper, Squire became more interested in visuals than sound. His first art show in London and Manchester that year was followed by others in Belgium, Tokyo and Edinburgh. Squire has illustrated Penguin book covers and has restlessly worked with sand, oil, fabric and mixed media.
The art world has often been critical of musicians who try painting, such as Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell. “I’ve been turned down for shows by people who like the work but say I come with too much baggage: I can understand,” says Squire.
Some of his pictures are inspired by older music such as that of Miles Davis. He’s not impressed by many modern acts.
“I’m still listening to Hendrix, the Beach Boys, the Stones, Funkadelic, people like that,” Squire says. “It’s a trait of the older generations to always hark back to better times but I think music has been in a downward slide since probably the mid-1970s. I still play guitar occasionally. I play piano with my daughter.”
The Stone Roses broke up after an album called “Second Coming.” The question keeps coming up as to whether there will be a third? Squire says that he is happy with his art.
Can we take that to mean no more John Squire, the rock star? “If you say so,” he says.
When the TV camera is switched off, he leaves the door open to a Stone Roses reunion: “Never say never,” Squire says.
Don’t hold your breath, yet it might just happen.
(Mark Beech writes for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)
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