Artist: it’s the hyphenate du jour. And with each new “artist”/brand collaboration and capsule, the eye rolls become all the more emphatic.
Then there’s Alison Mosshart: front woman for The Kills and sometimes front rower — she’s a fixture at the Burberry show in London, where she splits her time between her base in Nashville. Scrolling through a PDF of her artwork, a panopoly of whimsical, abstract portraits, it’s clear Mosshart actually has a gift. She’s displaying her range with a solo show, her first, opening Thursday night at Joseph Gross Gallery in Chelsea.
“Fire Power” is expansive — 127 pieces (drawings, paintings, mixed media and tapestries) in total. “I sent them, like, 360 pictures of pieces and then they weeded through that,” Mosshart says in her throaty register, over the phone. She audibly pulls from a cigarette. “I don’t know what it is, but I really can’t tell what’s good and what’s not. I just do it and someone else decides. I like it that way, it’s very comfortable for me to do it that way. Sometimes it’s the same with music. I write a lot of songs and the ones Jamie [Hince, bandmate and husband of Kate Moss] likes, I’m like, ‘Oh really?’”
Here, Mosshart talks more about her art, the exhibition — and life on the road.
WWD: You only began showing your art last year in small measure. How do you feel about putting all your work out there with this exhibition?
Alison Mosshart: Yeah, I’ve done a few things before, a few pieces in group shows, things like that but this is my first solo show. It’s absolutely terrifying. It’s all completely new to me. If someone had told me, “You’re going to have a solo painting show in New York in your life,” I would’ve died. It’s totally crazy to me.
WWD: This is also a really big show.
A.M.: Yeah, but, you know, thankfully because I’ve been painting out of a suitcase, things are small. Not everything but the majority of it is suitcase-sized.
WWD: You went to art school, right?
A.M.: Well, I went to University of Florida, and did two years of it. I took all the art classes they offered, every single one of them. Then came time to do math and science and all that stuff and I left.
WWD: What was your art like then?
A.M.: I wasn’t really painting. I was doing a lot of collage, a lot of photography, a lot of drawing, a ton of collage. I still have so much stuff from that time; a lot of it’s hanging in my mom’s house. I go over and see it and I’m like, “I did that? That’s so cool!” I can’t believe it. It’s really interesting because looking at it, you can tell I had a lot more time at that point in my life. The stuff was detailed and super complex. That’s not something I have time to do anymore. But it’s great to look back and be like, “Oh! I did have that attention span back then.”
WWD: Tell me about the pieces in the exhibition. What’s your process?
A.M.: Everything is from touring and being backstage and in hotel rooms. You know, there’s nothing to do [when you’re on tour]. You’re waiting for sound check; you’re waiting to go on stage. You’re basically trapped in a tiny little room and I just have my paints and my paper, so you end up with a ton of stuff. You’d be surprised how much free time you have. It’s a totally crazy thing to be living in a moving vehicle and wake up in a different city every day but when you’re on the road, you’re only really working four hours a day.
WWD: What materials do you bring on the road?
A.M.: Tons of brushes, weird chalks, every kind of conceivable pencil, paint marker, crayon and I have a box of acrylic paints..
WWD: Do you devise a concept before starting each piece or is it more free-flow?
A.M.: There’s no concept at all when I start. To me, they’re like diary entries but to someone else, you’re not going to know where I was but I always know where I was when I made it. They capture a moment I was in. They’re very evocative. I’ll see a piece and know exactly where I was and how I was feeling.
WWD: Is there a unifying thread? There are a lot of human figures.
A.M.: Yeah, I think it’s this sense of momentum and constant motion to the pieces. There are a lot of figures. I encounter so many people in passing while touring and I kind of just notice these things and pick up on small stuff about them. But none of these pictures is of any one person. I’ll draw lots of extra eyes and extra mouths and extra teeth. It’s often like painting someone who’s confused and has 90 thoughts at once. Kind of like me!