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Ric Ocasek shakes up career with art debut

You might think of Ric Ocasek purely as a creator of musical magic, but the front man of the 1970s and '80s new wave rock band The Cars also has been making visual art for years.
/ Source: The Associated Press

You might think of Ric Ocasek purely as a creator of musical magic, but the front man of the 1970s and '80s new wave rock band The Cars also has been making visual art for years.

Ocasek, 60, kept his side hobby of colored pen and pencil drawings, photo collages and mixed-media paintings to himself — until now. The Cars' songwriter and lead singer on many of the band's hits — including "You Might Think," "Magic" and "Shake It Up" — is showing 170 artworks at a gallery here, where Ocasek once lived.

"It's funny to see them hanging up all over the walls," Ocasek marveled as he eyed the neat rows of his creations, which had previously decorated his New York home or had simply been filed away.

The exhibition is the result of five years of persistence by Mahan Gallery owner Jacquie Mahan, who lives with and has a child by Ocasek's 38-year-old son, Adam Otcasek (The rocker professionally dropped the "t" from the family name.).

"I put a little bug in his ear, saying that these are important and they should be seen because they're really cool," said Mahan, 27. "The lines and the color and the design — it was a shame that they were sitting in a drawer, collecting stacks and stacks."

One of Ocasek's drawings is on record company stationery, probably begun as a doodle during a meeting, he said. Many are reminiscent of psychedelic artist Peter Max and feature highly detailed, swirling patterns with a rhythmic quality, while others are in a bolder style of larger, clashing geometric shapes.

"It's really kind of crazy, how he could make all the lines and circles into something really cool," said Cassy Green, 22, of Columbus, as she left the exhibit on recent afternoon. "It's just kind of inspiring, and it makes me want to go home and try something like that."

Ocasek said he considers the artworks a kind of visual music, produced through a similar creative process, and about themes of "relaxing and tension."

Some of the photo collages include images of Ocasek's current and third wife, fashion model and "Dancing With the Stars" alum Paulina Porizkova. There's one that features the singer's friend, the late pop artist Andy Warhol, who also dabbled in many types of media.

"He always inspired me as a person, philosophically, and as a worker and as an innovator," Ocasek said.

The gallery show represents a sort of homecoming for Ocasek, who lived in Columbus briefly after teen years spent in Cleveland, where his father worked for NASA. It was in Columbus where Ocasek met and first teamed with Benjamin Orr, The Cars' bassist and lead singer on the hits "Just What I Needed" and "Drive." Orr died in 2000 of pancreatic cancer at age 53.

"That was too young, and he was a phenomenal talent," Ocasek said of his friend.

Current musical projects for Ocasek include a special 25th anniversary reissue of The Cars' "Heartbeat City" album with never-released songs including two sung by Orr. That's due out later this year, Ocasek said.

The gallery show runs through April 25. Mahan is offering Ocasek's drawings for $900 to $1900, while photos and prints are priced at $700.

The rocker indicated there may be an additional exhibition in New York, where an art dealer is eager to play host.