Paul Stanley,
The TVD Interview

You can think of KISS, the fire-breathing long-running rock band, as a kind of performance art piece. With face-painted demons in fanciful costumes, the fire and spectacle of their arena shows set the stage for most such stadium concerts today.

Frontman Paul Stanley had a hand in creating that art, and he’s joined the handful of rockers who augment off time by taking to the easel, with colorful canvases that range from abstractions to specific band-centric self-portraits, flags, and an array of guitars.

His gallery shows draw a number of fans, of course, but also viewers who may have never heard “Love Gun.” His original paintings, mixed-media works, prints, and hand-painted sculptures often sell out, and not just because he also makes personal appearances, as he will September 21 and 22 in the Washington, DC area at the Wentworth Galleries in Bethesda and Tysons Corner.

With his voice much more subdued than it is during his famous banter on stage, Stanley, 66, talked recently over the phone about his art, his vinyl, and future Kiss tours.

What period of time does your exhibit cover?

My art shows really reflect my whole road till now. It reflects pretty much all the work that I’ve done or a significant part of it. I used to wonder if I could ever have enough art to fill a gallery, and now I have too much. But it certainly reflects quite a bit of the time.

So what is the oldest piece in it?

Probably about 18 years. Somewhere around 17-18 years.

Was art something you did from an early time?

Yeah, I didn’t paint, but I was very fortunate that my parents, both being of European stock, pretty much meant that the arts were a part of my life. In Europe my parents certainly experienced theater and museums and they brought the same to me. So those were part of my vocabulary, part of my home life.

What made you pick up the paint brush 18 years ago?

I think turmoil will either see you throwing things at the wall or finding perhaps a better outlet. And once I got tired of the first one, a friend of mine said, “You should paint.” That resonated with me even though I didn’t know how it would manifest itself, I went out and bought paints and brushes and an easels. I had no idea what I was going to do and put brush to canvas and basically was pretty much purging. It was almost stream of consciousness using color. It was an interesting way for me to depict for myself what I was felling. And over time, it just kept evolving, and it is still and will continue to evolve. My only rule for this and anything else in my life is: The only rule is no rules.

Is it tough for you to part with these things when you’re putting them on sale?

No. I’m thrilled to be able to see major pieces go to collectors and go places where they’re appreciated, and know that for the more significant pieces, they are being collected by people who may care less about the band. The two are fairly intertwined but at the same time there are certainly people who have my pieces in their homes that you won’t be at KISS concerts.

When you have openings, it’s not just KISS fans who come out.

Of course. And I would be either blind or a liar to tell you that KISS fans aren’t a part of it and proudly so. I think that part of what I want to do in my life is to demystify and take away the intimidation factor of a lot of the arts, [like] theater. When I did Phantom of the Opera, you had people who had never been to the theater coming, in addition to regular theater goers and subscribers to theater. And the people who came who had never been there had the same sense as when they go to a gallery, that somehow you have to have an education to have a qualified opinion.

And nobody needs to justify or have to explain their likes or dislikes. So I think that sometimes the people who should be championing the arts actually choke them by intimidating people into not coming. I want to be opening doors. I tell people at gallery shows half-heartedly, that if you don’t like my art, go home and paint your own. That’s really at the core of it to me. You find enough people in life who tell you what you can’t accomplish, and I’m here to tell you that you can. You should live with a “Why not?” attitude instead of a “Why?” There’s enough people who are going to tell you what you shouldn’t do, don’t be one of them.

You could look at career in KISS and see it as performance art. The visual aspect of it was always a big component of it and drew a lot of people to it. Do you look at it that way?

I think that certainly KISS is a great unifier of people around the world, having just been to Spain and Portugal and played for 50,000 at a time, and preparing for an upcoming tour. Fame is based in the commonality of people and what they like and what they identify with. And KISS has always been about self empowerment and self-determination and celebrating being alive. And that’s universal.

So I think art in general transcends language, and people enjoy art because hopefully, it connects with them emotionally and viscerally. And for that you don’t have to explain to anybody why. It’s not a test. I liken it to food: You don’t need to know what good food is—the food you spit out is bad food, and the food you swallow is good. And someone else’s taste should be irrelevant.

How has your style of painting changed over these 18 years?

Oh, it constantly changes. I think, at least for me, that’s the beauty of it. Life constantly changes. Who we are constantly evolves. And, not to in any way connect myself to Picasso, but Picasso said he was an artist without a style. And I think that’s the beauty of it: the freedom to change over time.

What kinds of things are you doing now that you weren’t doing before, or what kinds of things were you interested in earlier you’re not doing as much of now?

I think early on there was a lot more impulse, and more of a reflection of what I was feeling or what I was going through, whereas now I like to depict things, whether it’s a scene or an image of a famous performer, or an experiment with different mediums, working in thick two-inch plexiglass and painting in essence in three dimensions, I just don’t put much thought into why I’m going to do something, I just do it.

Did you take classes for this? Do you work among a group of artists?

Oh gosh, perhaps I’m a punk Impressionist. I’m a mutt in the sense that I have no pedigree. I am self-taught. And I don’t even know if it’s self-taught. It might be I’m self-experienced. I don’t have at this time in my life the time or desire to take classes or learn what I don’t know. I’ve done fairly well in life with what I do know.

How do you fit this in with your music life?

I make my schedule. I’m certainly not at a part of life where I’m informed of where I have to be or what I have to do. So my schedule is much of my own making. There is a lot of time that we don’t tour and there’s a lot of time that I’m not playing. And I would say that I try to paint five days a week. I try to paint Monday through Friday. The kids go off to school, and there’s quite a bit of time where I get not to be dad or husband, and I think it enhances both.

We usually ask at The Vinyl District what your own experiences have been with vinyl.

Records were always magical to me. Before there was vinyl, my parents had the old shellac—very very fragile, you dropped them, you could sell it as a puzzle. When vinyl first came out, it was a game changer, whether it was 45 RPMs or 33 1/3, and for me the beauty of the LP was its totality, in terms of being fully realized package. Of course that developed over the years earlier on. It was much more elementary. I do remember my first record that I owned was Everly Brothers’ “Dream” on Cadence.

When vinyl came, I remember my parents having quite a few Broadway albums and operas, and I somehow brought in Chubby Checker and the Four Seasons and things of that sort. Before that I was too young to purchase vinyl. But I had quite a collection as time went on and unfortunately when I was struggling early on as a musician, I would sell my vinyl for pennies to get by. So some of my earliest albums, and ones that I certainly wish I had today are long gone. Although I do have a few boxes and I love all the new pressings that bring back that era and that sound, which is unmistakable.

And KISS is touring next year in the states?

Yeah, there should be a tour. Which is funny. It shouldn’t be any surprise because we’ve toured for 45-plus years. So yeah, I guess we’re like the Energizer bunny.

Paul Stanley appears with his art at the Wentworth Gallery in Westfield Montgomery Mall in Bethesda, MD Friday, September 21 from 6 to 9PM. He appears at the Wentworth Gallery in Tysons Galleria in McLean, VA, Saturday, September 22 from 6 to 9PM. Admission is free; reservations are suggested.

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