Famous Musicians turned Fine Artists

musician grimes

Music is an art form like any other, and as such, there’s always going to be those who thrive in multiple arenas, from music to painting, drawing, sculpting and more.

It’s always inspiring when you find out your favourite musician also moonlights as a fine artist, exhibiting in galleries and getting published in the Arts Journal. I’ve curated a small selection of such musicians who might make very different music from one another, but who are united by their passion for art. You’ll find everything here, from the ones you’d expect all the way to the more obscure.

Top: Musician/producer Grimes in stylish ensemble.
david bowie photography colour fashion david bowie low cover art
Top: An iconic photograph of David Bowie. Bottom: Album cover art by Bowie.

David Bowie

The fact that David Bowie has a second career as a visual artist is hardly surprising. From his early days as a performance artist to his time as a film actor, through to his many chameleon guises in his decades long music career, Bowie has always been a true artist, one whose message manifests in various forms. He’s dabbled in photography and in sculpture, but it’s in painting that Bowie has devoted most of his energy and where lies his gift as a fine artist. From Edvard Munch-style maudlin portraits in the 70s to cubist-inspired paintings in the 90s like “The Rape of Bigarsehole” (1996), Bowie’s talents as an artist are infinite.

devendra banhart photography ocean mala devendra banhart cover art
Top: A sunny beach style portrait of musician Devendra Banhart. Bottom: Cover art for his 2012 album, “Mala.”

Devendra Banhart

In many ways, Banhart is the ultimate oddball modern musician. His songs are sprawling kooky affairs that at times sound like warped children’s lullabies, and at others like more conventional pop songs. In a modern context, they sit comfortably within the “New Weird Americana” or “Freak folk” genre. The first port of call for Banhart’s art is the albums themselves, from “Nina Rojo” to “Mala,” which are decorated in his quirky art. Banhart’s illustrations are surreal, colourful delights rendered in delicate pencil and brushwork and steeped in mythology and fairy tales. They have been exhibited at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Art Basel Contemporary Art Fair in Miami.

joni mitchell iconic black and white



joni mitchell clouds cover art
Top: Joni Mitchell and her 60s style. Bottom: A self portrait by Mitchell for her album “Clouds.”

Joni Mitchell

Back in 1998, musical icon Joni Mitchell famously quipped that “I’m a painter first, and a musician second.” [1] For those not accustomed to Michell’s other life as a skilled painter, this statement might seem a tad strange. But then you discover that painting was always her first love, from her early days as a young woman in Canada sketching the vast cornfields and dreaming of art school. In the 60s, Mitchell made colourful portraits of the artists and musicians surrounding her in Laurel Canyon, including David Crosby and Graham Nash and painted gorgeous self-portraits like “Ladies of the Canyon” (1969), a figurative work in which Mitchell has painted fields and trees in the folds of her skirt.

grimes colour portrait grimes visions cover art
Top: A photograph of Grimes and bottom: Cover art for her 2013 release “Visions”

Grimes

Here’s another contemporary musician defined in many ways by an outsider aesthetic, whether it’s her virtuoso live performances or her eclectic musical style which is nigh impossible to label. Grimes aka Canadian singer-songwriter and producer Claire Boucher has become the hipster musician of choice in recent years, and in 2013, she won both a Juno and Webby award. Like Banhart, Boucher often adorns her albums with her artwork, from her debut “Geidi Primes” to her 2013 breakout “Visions.” Last year, Grimes had a solo exhibition at Manhattan’s Audio Visual Gallery, inviting friends along to exhibit with her. Full moons, gothic dreams and vintage monster movies come to mind when viewing Grimes’ art. And yes, they’re as cool as that sounds.

bob dylan iconic black and white photography painting bob dylan
Top: Bob Dylan making music in the studio and bottom: one of the paintings from his “Drawn Blank series.”

Bob Dylan

A musician who has defied expectation and defined what it means to be a singer and songwriter for the best part of a century, one could spend a lifetime writing about the many virtues of Bob Dylan as an artist, musician and poet. Although he has long been a practising visual artist, it was only fairly recently that this side of the great man was exposed to the public. In 2007, Dylan had his “Drawn Blank Series” exhibited at Germany’s Kunstsammlungen Chemnitz. These gorgeous watercolors of deserted rail tracks and café scenes could be the work of one of the great masters. They possess so much wisdom and colour.

1. Mitchell, Joni. JoniMitchell.com.
Retrieved on November 11th, 2013.

All artwork and photography © respective artists, 
photographers and record labels.
Christopher Smail

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Christopher is based in the UK, the former assistant editor of Illusion magazine. Follow the author @ and view more articles.

November 12, 2013 Art Music Painting Special Feature