IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

KISS guitarist knows how to wield a paint brush

Large in scale and filled with bright color, Paul Stanley's range from the abstract to the surreal to the figurative. Some of them, such as “God of Thunder” and “Love Gun” are named for KISS songs.
/ Source: The Associated Press

When it comes to glam rock stars, Paul Stanley always could wield that makeup brush with the best of them.

So maybe it shouldn’t have come as a surprise that the KISS guitarist, first introduced to the world with his face covered in white makeup, his lips painted bright red, a dark star over his right eye, would someday set aside that guitar long enough to pour his soul into oil on canvas.

Still, Stanley says he was the most surprised guy on the planet when he, an art-class washout from New York City’s High School of Music and Art, suddenly began to make the transition from guitar god to serious painter eight years ago.

“I managed to fail art. Which is, you know, astonishing,” he says with a sly smile as he sits in an oversized easy chair in his home studio. “Nobody fails art at that school.”

How he managed to do so seems surprising when one casts a glance around Stanley’s studio, which sits just behind his house atop a brush-covered, mansion-dotted hillside overlooking Los Angeles. There, basking in the bright light that streams in from the windows are a dozen or more high-resolution scans of some of his original works.

Large in scale and filled with bright color, they range from the abstract to the surreal to the figurative. Some of them, such as “God of Thunder” and “Love Gun” are named for KISS songs.

Then there are others, like “Liberty,” a huge, abstract representation of the Statue of Liberty. His KISS band-mate and longtime friend Gene Simmons, who owns the original, says he was captivated when he first saw it and asked to put it in his home.

“It captures the grandeur and beauty that is America,” Simmons said.

There are also representational portraits, including one of the artist’s 87-year-old father that, Stanley says with a laugh, is said by friends to be so realistic “that if they issued it in a police bulletin my dad would be apprehended in five minutes.”

The originals fetch as much as $70,000, a figure the artist confirms with both a touch of pride and a bit of embarrassment. On the one hand, he considers it proof that serious collectors have accepted his work. On the other, he acknowledges he doesn’t need the money and, in any case, never set out to sell the art he created.

He was approaching 50 and going through a divorce when he found himself searching for another emotional outlet outside of music.

“A friend of mine who knew me well said, ‘You should paint,”’ he recalls. “Having no idea what I was going to do, having no training, I went to a store, bought canvases, paints, pallet knives, brushes and went home and just started. The first piece I hung in the house, invariably people would go to that one and say, ‘Who did this?”’

Unique among celebrity paintersStill, he never planned to sell anything until he mentioned in passing to Michael O’Mahoney, president of the Wentworth Gallery, that he painted. O’Mahoney asked to take a look and was impressed. He’s since mounted about two dozen Stanley shows around the country.

The artist’s work hopscotches from style to style, influenced, he says, by everyone from Picasso to Michelangelo to Warhol to numerous other painters he admires.

But that doesn’t mean, O’Mahoney says, that the result doesn’t reflect a unique vision.

“To convey warmth, anger, sadness, happiness onto a piece of canvass, there’s no precise formula for doing that,” he says. “Either you’ve got it or you don’t have it. He’s got it.”

And while O’Mahoney acknowledges that Stanley’s art world debut certainly wasn’t dampened by the fact he’s a rock star, he quickly adds that success in another field can only carry a person so far.

“There are other famous celebrities who do art, who I’m certainly not going to name,” the gallery owner says. “But I’ve been approached by them and I’ve said, ‘No, no no. No thank you. I don’t care that you can fill a gallery. I’ve still got to look at my client at the end of the day and say, ‘My God, you paid $5,000 for that?”’

Even if people had rejected his paintings, Stanley says, he would have kept on creating them and, at the least, put them in his closet.

“The whole idea of my getting into art in the first place, or music, was to make myself happy,” he says. “Anybody else liking what I do is a bonus.”

And if his venture into fine art was predicated by some trying emotional times, those are now in the past. Remarried in 2005, he is the father of sons ages 14 and 2 and a daughter born Jan. 28.

Celebrity Sightings

Slideshow  26 photos

Celebrity Sightings

Jake Johnson and Damon Wayans Jr. on the "Let's Be Cops," red carpet, Selena Gomez is immortalized in wax and more.

“I’m up in the morning taking my oldest to school, then making breakfast for my next one and then burping the next one,” laughs the 57-year-old artist who is dressed this day in an untucked black shirt, blue jeans and black work boots. His long black hair, showing just a few touches of gray, frames his makeup-free face. His guitar and a pair of small speakers sit nearby.

He’ll have to put some of his parental chores aside for a while in the spring, Stanley says, when KISS launches a tour of South America, followed by one of Canada. The group also has a new album in the works.

With all of that on his plate, his painting will also likely have to go on the back burner for the first time in years. But he says he’s looking forward to the inspiration he hopes to gather while on the road. It is inspiration he hopes will transfer to canvasses rich in color in whatever style he chooses to paint them.

“I’m on this journey without a map,” he says. “The only thing that’s consistent is the idea of expressing myself in color because to me life is incredible. It’s rich. It’s vibrant. And on it’s worst day, it’s a miracle.”