You could be forgiven for taking a wearisome sigh on discovering that The Pretenders leader Chrissie Hynde is the latest in stream of rock stars who have taken up the paintbrush and canvas in the autumn of their career.
However, unlike some of her contemporaries, it’s not something new that she’s discovered in later life, but it rather represents a return to something she did in her younger years at Kent State University Art School, infamous for the Kent State massacre depicted in CSNY’s ‘Ohio’ song.
Coming bang up to date, she was approached by Genesis Publications who have cornered the market in rock star art. And after initially turning them down she was persuaded to let them assemble a high class coffee table affair full of her evocative paintings.
Today’s VIP show at Notting Hill’s After Nyne Gallery is a snap shot of four years of her prodigious output. It consists of 200 previously unseen paintings and a new book called ‘Adding The Blue’, complete with accompanying texts and captions written by her.
Presented over two floor, the intimate gallery provides the perfect space for the exhibition. There’s plenty of natural light and subtle secondary lighting, high ceilings and voluminous white walls to help present her middling to large canvas’s in their best aspect.
There’ also a helpful audiovisual presentation in which Chrissie tells us all about her passion and journey into painting.
“‘It’s pretty much like writing songs. I might know what I want to write about, but generally I just dive in and see what’s down there.”
The exhibition also mirrors her journey from still life and landscapes into more abstract paintings that combine focused imagination with the same detailed precision of the pioneering photographers.
Her work represent a roll call of family and friends and self portraits as moves towards the more abstract.
There’s not a hint of pretension in either her own appraisal of her role as an artist, or indeed in the paintings themselves. She works exclusively with oil paint on canvas and the exhibition represents a chronological summary of her growing confidence with her brush strokes leading to hints of cubism.
Then there’s the significance of the colour blue, as evidenced by the book title ‘Adding The Blue’. Her juxtaposition of colours gives the paintings their vibrancy and much like her music, its a subtle blend rather than anything too busy or intense.
She’s more restrained on pictures such as the ceramic vase which kick-started her return to painting, and lets the colours flow one-into-the-other on her portraits. Once she gets more abstract they sometimes resemble the texture of water colours.
In sharp contrast, there’s much more clearer definition in her figure paintings and nudes, with strong lines and certainly less detachment
A special word of praise too for the gallery which has managed to make a coherent fist of a blur of work. It’s an intimate setting for some intimate work, but somehow the exhibition is allowed to breathe and fulfill it’s sense of artistic flow, almost as if following in the footsteps of the artist herself who says: “As soon as I was in a situation where I could be alone and paint without interruptions, I just couldn’t stop.”
There’s a real sense of purpose to her work, almost in contradiction to the notion of the coffee table book that you might nonchalantly glance at. There’s real commitment and passion in her painting, counterweighted by symmetry, space and a serenity that can only come from working alone.
The Royal Academy’s Artistic Director Tim Marlow talk about: “a life force at play,” and that certainly come across via Hynde’s vivid imaginative and a strong attention to detail.
Then there the rich array of colours which suggest she’s someone who has plenty to say and an artist who captures the meaning and depth of the moment and of her subject matter.
‘Adding The Blue’ is a beguiling body of work that draws the viewer into a different, solitary world, but one that moves from detached precision of still life to deeper emotions when delving into her family and friends.
You could argue there’s a parallel to be drawn with her music, as some songs get rattled off in seconds, while others are shaped with deep feeling and a real connection, but her painting is different and it’s clearly a long term itch that she needed to scratch.
She tells us: “I always thought I would get into painting, but I got waylaid by rock ‘n’ roll. Finally, I thought, ‘Now’s the time’.”
Ultimately it’s the sense of balance between her unfettered abandon of making art and conjoining it with a wide range of subject matter that gives her work its punch.
There a self evident fluency to her paint strokes, and if she didn’t plan for any of this to be in a book, Genesis Publications have given her work a meaningful context beyond her immediate circle of family and friends.
Art potentially opens a different portal beyond her previous rock and roll environment. It’s a fitting outlet for an innovative and driven artist who clearly has much to communicate.
Review and photos by Pete Feenstra
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Pete Feenstra celebrated his 300th show in October 2019. Pete heads up a five-hour blues rock marathon when “Tuesday is Bluesday” from 19:00 GMT. Listen out also for his interview-based Feature show on Sundays (20:00 GMT)
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