Out of the blue on a hot-as-the-dog's-balls Wednesday morning, Paul Stanley called. It wasn't entirely unexpected; we did have an interview scheduled for later that afternoon. But something came up on his end, and he wanted to know if we could either move the interview back an hour, or do the interview right then. Paul Stanley has done about two million interviews in his career, and not only does he still make his own scheduling phone calls, he's willing to work around the interviewer's schedule. It's a nice touch, a personal touch, and if the rest of the celebrity world found out how the big names work, they'd be ashamed of the machinations of their press flacks. Anyway, I of course chose to interview him right then: he's Paul Stanley, and he was nice enough to ring me up. Despite the high-energy stage persona he's crafted, Stanley on the phone is sedate and laid-back. We discussed art, his philosophy of creating and what, exactly, the critics of the world can suck. He's a thoughtful man, and he took a great deal of care in choosing his words. Regardless of what you think of his art, Stanley obviously finds painting a deeply satisfying pursuit and he takes it seriously. It sounds like Art saved him when he was in a personal low point (I didn't pry when he brought that up, and if you'd heard the delicate path he picked in that part of the conversation, you wouldn't have either), and he's grateful that he has a lifestyle that allows him to paint while the rest of us have to go to work. If Art's not the answer to life's woes, then take it up with Paul Stanley; I'm with him on this one.
12AF:So, the press materials state you went to the New York City High School of Music and Art as an art major; was that a lot like going to the high school in Fame? Paul Stanley: It was a great school, in that all of the outcasts - and that was kinda synonymous with talented - from all the schools around NY would take these tests to try to get into that particular school. And a handful were chosen from the art and music field, and the ones that did performing arts went to the sister school. But it was very much like that film, Fame. It was a great creative environment where there was no emphasis put on how you looked, it was all about doing your work. That's pretty much the norm now, but back then, school attire requirements were pretty strict in most schools, with hair length and a whole lot of other nonsense. But when you got into that school, you were pretty much left to your own style choices as long as you did your work. I went in for fine arts, but I'm one of the few who probably holds the distinction of failing art. Which says volumes about my problems with authority figures.
Were the classes helpful for you? Did you feel like you were learning what you needed to be an artist? PS: I have to say if it helped me do anything, it was complete school. School for me in general was not a whole lot of fun. I tended to find myself the blackest of the black sheep no matter where I went, so when I went there, it was pretty much everything was OK. It was a very liberal school. Although I didn't find myself excelling in any particular area, it made it possible for me to finish school. And it also kinda cemented in me that I wanted to first pursue music. My first love had been music and rock & roll, and that's what I decided to pursue first. Although, because KISS is such a visual band, I got the chance to design album covers, tour books, stages, things of that sort. In the last seven years, I wouldn't say "I've returned to art," because I found art in different ways (in the band). But it's been tremendously rewarding for me and exciting - about seven years ago I was going through some turmoil, and one of my best friends said, "You need to paint." And I'd never really painted surprisingly. But for whatever reason, that really resonated with me. So I went out and bought canvases and paints and brushes, and started painting. And for me it was very much a journey into . . . getting to know another side of myself. I was never interested in the idea of making a table and chairs look like a table and chairs, and I was never interested in depicting reality literally. I was more interested in almost a stream of consciousness using color and texture instead of using words. It was more about emotions, trying to convey emotions and things that were going on.
But you've made your living writing lyrics. . . PS: It's very different than that. It's very different because you have many less limitations and boundaries. The framework that you have to work with when you write music consists of music, melody, lyrics - everything has to fit. Whereas with art, the only boundaries are the edge of the canvas. What you do on it is up to you. For me, I really started painting very much as a personal expression. And yet as soon as I put a piece up in my house (and I didn't sign it), it was the painting everyone was drawn to and wanted to know who did it. I think when you do something initially for yourself, you're bound to connect with other people. You run into trouble when you try to second guess the people who may be seeing whatever you're doing, whether it's art or music. You're always better off, first and foremost, trying to please yourself. I think ultimately if you please yourself, you'll find someone else you please in the process. It really became about me trying to connect and almost purge whatever was going on inside me. I tend to approach the canvas like a journey. You know, I won't know where I'm going, but I'll know when I've got there.
Is it tough to fit painting into your life now? PS: It's much more easy than before. I tend to compartmentalize my life. And when I'm not working on music, I'm free to do whatever I want. It's very easy for me to disconnect, disassociate myself from one aspect and go into another.
So when you're on the road, you don't itch to get the canvas out and paint? PS: No. And when I paint, I don't itch to play the guitar. They're very separate realms. But I find it really interesting, you know, the amount of people acquiring my art has been pretty staggering. No doubt, my success and who I am gets my foot in the door, but it doesn't stop anyone from slamming the door. I certainly get an advantage in getting my work seen, but that doesn't mean anybody's going to want it. Because somebody likes your songs doesn't mean they're going to feel obligated to acquire your art. At the end of the day, money changing hands kinda says all, you know? And that's been pretty phenomenal (that people want to buy them). People ask me when they look at a painting whether there's a hidden face or something else in a particular painting; and because I tend to create impulsively and instinctively, a lot of things will wind up in the painting that even I'm not aware of. But I always try to tell people, instead of helping them to see my reality, I'd rather they find their own.
Talk about how you go about painting: Do you just sit down and go at it? Do you listen to music? PS: Well, you know, I like music. I'll have music playing, and I'll just have some time for myself.
Part of the KISS mystique is that everything is bigger than everyone else. Do you find that element comes into play when painting? That you look at it and think, "It's not good enough, I can do better?" PS: I'm my own harshest critic. Always. And I'm not of the belief that bigger is necessarily better. Sometimes bigger is only bigger. It's what's behind it, or what it's made of or what it stands for. I'm not somebody who's impressed with numbers or size or anything like that.
Your artist statement mentions that you're drawn to the school of Abstraction and also Expressionism; what's the appeal of those styles? PS: Mainly because I believe that emotion is a more universal language. I'd rather have people connect with my paintings on an emotional level than an intellectual. I'd rather people respond to something and like it and not try to figure out why they like it. That's secondary. I think that something we all can have in common is an emotional connection.
Let's return to the compartmentalization theory of your life. Do you set yourself a schedule for painting? PS: I do now. People may say that they only paint for themselves or they only create for themselves. That may be true initially, but I think it's nonsense. The only person who ultimately creates purely for themselves is a person who doesn't appeal to anyone else. The fact that you succeed gives you incentive to create more. I'd be lying if I said that the fact that my art has been accepted so widely doesn't make me want to paint more. No artist ever starved by choice!
Do you schedule yourself to the point where you have a quota, like two a day? PS: Oh, gosh no! I would have to have ten arms to do two a day. But besides that, no; I look upon creating as part of my day. I don't believe in the idea that you sit around waiting for inspiration - you create inspiration. We'd spend a whole lot more time under a shady tree waiting for inspiration; I'd rather go find it.
Do you believe it's your work ethic that sets you apart? PS: Of course. My work ethic has always been about applying myself to something, and that's what gets the results. And being proud of whatever I do. At the end of the day, I can live with whatever criticism I get, as long as I don't believe it.
You've had eight or ten shows at this point; have you been reviewed seriously? Have critics showed up and then torn you apart? PS: I think that critics are the downfall of any art that they become a part of. They exist by intimidation. They exist by making people believe that they're necessary, and that people on their own can't decide what's good and bad. And that's unfortunate. Many people miss out on great opportunities to experience theatre or art because they feel that they're not qualified to decide whether or not something's good or bad - and that's absurd! When you go into a restaurant, you don't need someone to tell you the food is good or bad. If you spit it out, you know it's bad. If art connects with you, it's good. If theatre connects with you, it's good. You don't need somebody who's got a better grasp of the English language - perhaps - than you do to tell you why he likes it. No one's opinion is relevant except your own. So, I don't ever concern myself with critics. They certainly don't live in my house.
They also don't tend to buy the paintings. PS: Right! They also go to concerts with free tickets, so how important is somebody's opinion who didn't have to work to acquire what they have?
You're going to be in town for a few days; Are you gonna check out some our museums this weekend? PS: I'd love to. You know, it's humbling to see how much great art is being created that will never see a museum. You pick up a copy of Art News, and the amount of art that's being made that's world class is staggering. I'd love to get to the museums, and if it's possible, I will. I'd also like everybody to understand that these shows are in an art gallery; it's not a memorabilia signing. I'm happy that you have CDs, t-shirts, tour books and photos, but they won't be signed there. This is an art gallery, and it's the wrong place and the wrong time. But if you wind up seeing a piece of art that you like and you acquire, then we'll get to spend some time together. I have a champagne reception for all the people who pre-buy a piece.
Paul Stanley displays his art Friday and Saturday (August 17 and 18; 6 to 9 p.m. both evenings) for an exhibition of his paintings at the Wentworth Gallery at Westfield Shoppingtown-West County (I-270 and Manchester Road, Des Peres; 314-821-8884 or www.wentworthgallery.com). Admission is free, but as mentioned, he's only hanging out with buyers. Visit the gallery's Web site for information on how to pre-purchase a piece so you can hang out with Stanley at the buyer's reception.