A rocker, poet and activist, Patti Smith is already a Renaissance woman. With her first major solo exhibit of drawings and photographs opening in Paris this week, she earns the title of visual artist, too.
Smith, 61, calls the exhibit opening Friday at the Fondation Cartier “an open door welcoming people into my world.” What may surprise fans is that her visual work is apolitical. From scratchy pencil drawings to Polaroid snapshots, it’s dreamy and a touch surreal.
“Music and performance within the arena of rock ’n’ roll has given me an opportunity to use my voice to communicate with many people, to speak out for human rights, against social injustice, against war, for our environment,” the “People Have the Power” singer said ahead of the opening.
“But the other fields in which I work give me an opportunity to express my own inner world, which is not political. Artists must have the freedom to express their own vision, which is sometimes celestial, universal, on a whole other plane than the political situation in the world.”
The exhibit, called “Land 250,” draws from art Smith created from 1967 to 2007, some of it during stays in Paris. Though Smith has had smaller gallery shows, this is her first major exhibit, and most of the art on display has never been seen by the public before, said curator Grazia Quaroni.
Smith fans will be intrigued by the insight into her music and inspirations, as well as by the videos projected on screens throughout the show. For everyone else, the art will probably go over their heads.
There are snapshots of graveyard headstones — Smith enjoys wandering through cemeteries. There are biting crayon portraits of Smith and her friends. There are also photographs of inanimate objects that belonged to her artistic inspirations: poet Arthur Rimbaud’s fork and spoon; Virginia Woolf’s bed; and Hermann Hesse’s typewriter.
“I felt so weary as a human being,” she said. “I was unable to concentrate, to write, to draw. I was just emotionally and physically unable to express myself in any way that took a lot of concentrated energy. Taking the Polaroids, because it was simple and immediate, gave me an immediate response to a creative need.”
Smith has gotten her son and daughter, Jackson and Jesse, involved in the show. Jackson is to spend a few afternoons hanging out at the exhibit, strumming the guitar and chatting with visitors. Jesse will play piano Friday as her mother reads from Woolf’s writings, part of a series of evening events and concerts to coincide with the exhibit.
The show is the latest French honor for Smith, who in 2005, was named a commander in the prestigious Order of Arts and Letters.