Jackie Greene, the (visual) artist
The singer-songwriter talks about his other artistic side
Salinas-born singer-songwriter Jackie Greene— just 30 years old—already has made such a name for himself in the music world that he has been compared to the likes of Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen. But besides being a soulful, accomplished musician, Greene is also starting to make waves as a visual artist. Greene’s artwork went on display at Chico Paper Co. in late September, and will remain “as long as it is an interest to our Chico audience,” according to Chico Paper co-owner Jana Strong.
The CN&R caught up with Greene by email on his current tour, which makes its way to Chico for two shows at the El Rey Theatre this weekend.
CN&R: When did you start getting into doing visual art?
Greene: I’ve always been into drawing and sketching. When I was a kid, I used to want to be a comic-book artist. There’s a bit of down time on the road and having a sketchbook is pretty normal for me.
What are your favorite media? Favorite subject matters? I notice you like to do self portraits—do those come from time spent staring into hotel mirrors?
I like painting in oils, mainly. I can’t really bring oil paints on the road so I tend to use markers and watercolors when I’m out on tour. I don’t favor any subject matter necessarily, but I do tend to lean toward figurative stuff. I don’t use any references, though. No photos or mirrors. Just what’s in my mind.
Do you have a favorite place where you like to do your art?
Not really. I’ll draw in hotels or on buses. I have an easel set up in my garage for painting and things that are more messy. I tend to make a big mess. I don’t think I have a pair of pants that don’t have paint on them.
What is your favorite piece?
I don’t really have one. It’s the same as songs. You make one and then you make another. Some live longer than others. It’s normal.
Who are your favorite artists, both living and dead?
Picasso, for sure. I’ve always been drawn to his command of everything. Like it was easy for him. I also like the fact that he got to enjoy tremendous success in his lifetime. I think that gets overlooked a lot. There’s nothing wrong with being rich and famous while you’re alive. Obviously, his influence is incalculable. Kind of like Bob Dylan.
I also really like Lucian Freud. And lots of impressionists and post-impressionists. Hell, I also really like Jerry Garcia and Bob Dylan’s paintings.
Have you formally studied art?
Never formally. Although I did take classes in college a little bit. Never finished anything, though. I drew on the walls when I was a child. I always drew. About as long as I’ve been interested in music. They go hand and hand for me, really. The truth is that I still don’t know what it is that I’m doing (with both music and art), but I do it anyway. I just go by how it makes me feel in the moment. That’s pretty much it.
As you mention, Dylan, as well as other rock icons like John Lennon also did visual art (in fact, your drawings remind me of Lennon’s). Did their forays into art inspire you as a visual artist?
A little bit, yes. It’s certainly encouraging to know that there are many, many musicians who also paint and draw. I think expression is expression. If you can express yourself one way, you probably can do it another way as well.
Where have you shown your art? Do you bring art with you on a concert tours?
So far, in Aspen [Colo.] and D.C. Both at galleries that were kind enough to host me. It’s hard for galleries to take that leap. I’m not sure the art establishment really likes the idea of some rock singer being a painter, so I’m thankful that they allow me to try.
My dear friend Nora is in charge of bringing my art to the shows. Sometimes we have things to display, but sometimes it’s too much of an ordeal to bring everything out. It depends. I would like to get it to the point where each concert also has an art display where people can check out prints, originals and whatever else we happen to be making at the time. Each thing we make is limited. This includes soft goods like dresses and scarves. The idea is that the fans will be able to take home something unique that might not be available next year. It also allows me to keep creating and never get stale on any one thing. Which is how I’ve always viewed music in the first place.
Do you consider yourself a musician first, and a visual artist second?
Definitely a musician. I have to be honest with myself. I believe that’s my true love. I will always do music. Even if nobody wants to listen.
I’ve been into drawing and painting since I was young, but really it’s music that totally floats my boat. The weird thing is, though, the creative process is exactly the same for me. I don’t always start with a clear idea of what the song will become. Just as I don’t always stare at a blank canvas knowing exactly what will become of it. A dab of Indian yellow here—perhaps a G-minor chord in the bridge—know what I’m saying?
What are your aspirations with your visual art?
My personal goals are simple—to keep creating and keep myself entertained and sustained creatively. That’s pretty much it! I don’t expect to be in the MoMA.
How does music inform your visual art?
I guess the question is: How does it not inform the art? It’s all music to me. Paintings are musical. Everything I’ve ever painted has been musical to me. A memory of a time or a place or a person. An invention of the mind, or even an aimless doodle. It’s all musical. I could sit here and aimlessly play a guitar solo. It’s the same as doodling on a napkin.