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- Posted on Jun 23rd 2010 5:30PM by Mark Wigmore
Ron Hawkins' alphabet of rock and pop star paintings -- A is for Amy Winehouse, J is for Michael Jackson, Z is for Robert Zimmerman (er, B was already in use) -- are currently on display at Toronto's Drake Hotel General Store. The solo musician and former Lowest of the Low frontman is also multi-tasking, with four concert dates at the Queen West venue alongside the art project.
"The first time it was mounted it was 26, the full alphabet, A-Z, that was at a show in Buffalo," Hawkins tells Spinner, pointing out his favorites in the chaotically organized location which is currently home to 14 portraits.
"It came out of a thing called the 'Pocket Painting Project' that I was doing, to fight the recession and to try and sell some paintings."
The 3.5 by 5-inch head and shoulder shots jump off the west-facing wall with great character. The variety of artists suggests Hawkins' love for music runs across genres, from hip-hop kingpin Jay-Z -- "mainly because of the bling" -- to the Pogues' toothless singer Shane MacGowan.
"I did Willie Nelson, and I respect him, but I don't really listen to a lot of Willie Nelson," Hawkins admits. "His face was just so beautiful and insanely craggy, like a topographical map or something."
Many of the images Hawkins sourced are vintage shots from the subject's career, but he went with a more recent Ozzy Osbourne portrait to express his feelings towards metal's unexpectedly prolific personality.
"Some of it was to see a picture of someone, and for me this shot encapsulates Ozzy's personality. He's supposed to be dark but really he's just like Bud Abbott with purple glasses; he's the dark Bud Abbott."
Rock Star Portraits from A to Z
But it's the unlikely choice of a young Michael Jackson in the collection that provides a deeper curiosity. "I didn't really want to paint the, in quotes, 'adult Michael Jackson.' The Jackson 5 was happening when I was pretending to play music... so I figured he should be there. One thing was, could I fit that afro in a three-by-five [canvas]?"
At the heart of this project is Hawkins' continued push to follow his artistic pathways. He doesn't like the word 'bravery,' as some of his peers describe it. Solo tours and painting collections are not sure-footed paths to fortune, but he believes the lack of monetary stability is a small price to pay when involved in such fulfilling work.
"I generally get jazzed about something and then start doing it. All the things I do, being an indie musician and a painter, it's so hard to think in terms of making a lot of money. I am very aware that I am on this planet for a short amount of time and I have been lucky enough to stumble on things I want to do, and have confidence enough to go through with them. The leap of faith is one of things you learn by doing this, they're seductive, the endorphins run, they are like drugs or sex or anything. It's like, 'man I hope I can pull this off!'"
Your chance to judge Hawkins' latest artistic gamble in person won't last long, as Feist, Iggy Pop, Henry Rollins and all the rest will only stare down at art lovers until July 1st. You can catch Ron Hawkins in concert every Wednesday in June at the Drake, and look out for a Lowest of the Low reunion this fall.