He's known as The Starchild to millions of rock and roll fans around the world. With makeup covering up his face, Paul Stanley and his bandmates in KISS became one of the most popular rock bands on the planet, but before he was a rock star he was a budding young artist. Years later, he's now becoming known for his paintbrush as much as his axe.
Paul Stanley has always been an artist. In fact, he was chosen and attended the prestigious Manhattan High School of Music and Art (the school the film "Fame" was based upon) and majored in art, but it wasn't until years later that a friend helped steer him back towards painting.
"Art, to me, is like music," explained Stanley. "There's only two kinds - good and bad. For me, music can only be categorized like that. There's awful jazz and there's great jazz; there's awful rock and there's great rock. Art for me is the same. It doesn't matter about style, there's great art and not.
"I want to do art that I like and art that people can relate to - people on the street. In some ways it's no different than what we call pop music. Pop music is short for popular. Where's the sin in appealing to people? I love that people will look at "Green Planet" or "Purple Haze" and say 'I want to have that'. It doesn't take a knowledge of art, it takes a knowledge of what you love."
Paul Stanley will coming to the area for a pair of art shows at Wentworth Galleries in February. On February 9th he will be at the Riverside Mall in Hackensack, NJ and on the 10th he will be at the Mall at Short Hills in Short Hills, NJ.
Some people might wonder why someone who was so successful in one field would try their hand at another, but Paul says he loves taking challenges. In the past decade, he's started painting again and doing art shows, played the lead in Phantom Of The Opera, got divorced and remarried, had his second son, and released his first solo record in 28 years. You could say he's faced many challenges lately!
"I'm a big believer that I'm not here to live up to anyone's expectations," said Stanley. "I'm more about finding out what my capabilities are. I enjoy a challenge. I enjoy seeing how those projects are received. I think someone's a liar if they say they don't care and its only about themselves. I think we do things because we initially love them and want to satisfy ourselves, but I don't believe for a minute that it ends there.
"We ultimately want the feedback of others and it's great to find another outlet in art where people have connected with it so strongly. The thing I'm most happy about is that many people who have acquired pieces initially didn't know who did them. In fact, the farther they've been from any connection to KISS - those pieces are the ones that have been best received. Certainly being famous has given me an opportunity that others might not have, but ultimately people decide whether or not they like what you're doing."
Much of Stanley's art is associated with the Abstract Expressionist work of the late 1940's and 1950's. Some critics have said they can see the influences of artists such as Kandisky, Monrian, Malevitch, Paul Klee, and Mark Rothko in his pieces. When asked about the artists whom he believes influenced his work three names instantly come up - Picasso, Rothko, and Rembrandt.
"There's so many brilliant artists around that there's no shortage of great art, but you'll never be able to argue with Picasso," he said. "He's just the embodiment of creativity. What he did was staggering! What I love about him is that people sometimes snicker that two eyes are on one side of the head and nonsense like that, but the fact is that Picasso knew all the rules before he discounted them. Everything he did was based on a firm grasph and a firm foundation in real technique. Mark Rothko was incredible in his simplicity and emotion. Rembrandt was just amazing."
In addition to his abstract work, Stanley has created a set of paintings for each of the members of KISS. He says he created them because he thought the band's fans would enjoy them. Even decades later, the band is still one of the most popular rock and roll groups. The Internet is loaded with fan sites for the band and for individual band members and fans have no shortage of KISS fan magazines to pick up. It's amazing that the band is now reaching out to third and fourth generation fans like Paul's own son Evan who was born in 1994. Evan recently picked up the guitar and is a natural according to his father.
"It's incredible because he's almost too good," said Paul. "To hear a 12-year-old playing Jimi Hendrix - especially when he's yours - is pretty cool!"
Talent obviously runs in the Stanley family. Who knows? Maybe we have another Star Child in our midst...
Gary Wien has been covering the arts since 2001 and has had work published with Jersey Arts, Elmore Magazine, Princeton Magazine, Backstreets and other publications. He is a three-time winner of the Asbury Music Award for Top Music Journalist and the author of Beyond the Palace (the first book on the history of rock and roll in Asbury Park) and Are You Listening? The Top 100 Albums of 2001-2010 by New Jersey Artists. In addition, he runs New Jersey Stage and the online radio station The Penguin Rocks. He can be contacted at email@example.com.